One of the highlights of last year, in my view, was the publication of Christopher Norton’s outstanding Eastern Preludes Collection, which I reviewed here.
Eastern Preludes continued a series of piano solo collections for the intermediate-to-advanced level pianist, which already included the best-selling Jazz Preludes, Country Preludes, Rock Preludes and Latin Preludes collections – so naturally I wondered what might come next.
And here it is: The Christopher Norton Pacific Preludes Collection, comprising 14 brand new compositions suitable for intermediate to advanced players (around UK Grades 6-8).
Publishers Boosey & Hawkes welcome us to:
“Embark on a voyage of discovery with this captivating collection of 14 new Pacific Preludes from the creator of Microjazz, inspired by traditional music from the shores of the world’s largest ocean.
Explore the rich and varied musical landscape of the Pacific Rim as each Prelude weaves together native themes from countries including Australia, China, Peru, New Zealand and the United States of America with Christopher Norton’s characteristically innovative popular musical styles.”
The overall format of Pacific Preludes matches that of the Eastern Preludes Collection previously reviewed. A vivid and appealing cover whets the appetite for the cornucopia within.
Each piece is headed by a miniature world map identifying the whereabouts of the country taking the spotlight. There is a larger map across a two-page spread at the rear of the book, also highlighting the many countries that are musically represented. Translations of piece titles and references to their melodic origins point to the source material for Christopher’s new compositions, with helpful footnotes giving additional information where necessary.
The notation itself is superbly engraved, well spaced, and pristine throughout. Minimal fingering is included, as one would expect for pieces at this level.
Inside the back cover there is a plastic wallet containing a CD recording of the full collection, performed once again by the superb session pianist Iain Farrington.
As with Eastern Preludes the CD recording is outstanding, with a warm up-front piano sound beautifully captured. Iain Farrington clearly has an affinity for the music here, and I would highly recommend listening to his performances to aid the process of properly understanding the rhythmic emphasis and style required in these piece.
As with Eastern Preludes, I have found myself listening to the recording many times purely for pleasure – it’s fab! And as you read on, you can also listen right here, and right now, because the full CD has been generously made available by Christopher on his SoundCloud page:
The 14 Pieces
If Eastern Preludes served to improve our geography – both literal and cultural – of the Asian continent, Pacific Preludes reminds us just how huge the Pacific Ocean really is!
And it is quickly apparent that the wealth and range of indigenous music from these countries with Pacific coastlines – spread across four continents, no less – has proved a fertile inspiration for this most popular of contemporary composers.
Here’s the full list of pieces and countries included:
- Aching (Lullaby) – Philippines
- Cielito Lindo (My sweet love) = Mexico
- El Guapango Chorotega (Native dance on word) – Honduras
- La Trastrasera (Chilean dance) – Chile
- Mi Palomita (My little dove) – Peru
- Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower) – China
- Now is the Hour – New Zealand
- Oy, de ne vacher (The Cossack’s parable) – Russia
- Parranda Campesina (Peasant parade) – Colombia
- Pokarekare Ana (Stormy waters) – New Zealand
- Son de la Catarina (Son of Catherine) – Guatemala
- Sweet Betsy from Pike – United States of America
- Thanh Hien (Into the present) – Vietnam
- Waltzing Matilda – Australia
While there is considerable variety of pace and rhythm throughout, the tone here is for the most part bright and upbeat, the pieces seemingly reflecting a more relaxed world than that of Milton Keynes UK, in which I spend most of my days. I found myself transported indeed as I played these pieces!
Personal favourites include the wistful opening Anching, the sun-soaked Latin joy of Cielito Lindo, the somewhat more moody Mi Palomita and the fabulous ragtime-infused arrangement of Waltzing Matilda, which is unlike any version you’ve heard before!
Taken as whole Christopher Norton’s Pacific Preludes Collection is another assured triumph for this fabulous composer, and for his publishers Boosey & Hawkes, who have done a superb job of presenting the publication.
Concluding my review of The Eastern Preludes Collection I wrote:
“At a time when there seems to be new piano books appearing every week, Christopher Norton proves again why it is that he is so widely regarded as one of the world’s leading educational composers. The quality and variety here is simply outstanding.
Christopher’s consistent mastery of different musical styles and genres not only sets the bar, but raises it again for original piano music in accessible contemporary styles.”
I can only again echo these words. The Pacific Preludes Collection offers a unique resource for players, and each piece here is a true gem.
Speaking as a teacher, I find it can be difficult to source fresh, really well composed, idiomatic piano music in a range of lighter and jazzy styles for players at Grade 6-8 level. It is no surprise that some of Christopher Norton’s other preludes have already been popular choices in exam syllabi over the years, and quite frankly the exam boards would have to be daft to pass by the opportunity of including pieces from this collection in years to come.
More importantly though – and while acknowledging that the 14 pieces here have excellent educational value – these pieces are not simply suitable for use in exams and competitions…
These are brilliant, beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable pieces which players of all ages are bound to find wonderfully engaging and inspiring, and choose to keep in their Active Repertoire. They are pieces which will undoubtedly be highlights in many piano concerts to come, and I look forward to hearing the Pacific Preludes for many years ahead!
The Christopher Norton Pacific Preludes Collection is a brilliant publication, and can be recommended without reservation.
Available online from Musicroom.com here
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