Sheet Music Review
London College of Music Exams may be less well known to readers than the ABRSM and Trinity College London boards which I have written about previously, but that may be about to change. Certainly LCM offer a very wide range of different assessments for piano players – according to David Barton in this excellent blog post:
“I estimate that LCM offer nearly 20 different options for pianists at 15 different levels, right from the earliest stages of learning, through to the Fellowship of the London College of Music (FLCM). The range of options now available is fantastic; I feel enormously lucky to be teaching at a time when the needs of a diverse range of learners of all ages is finally being met by examination boards, led, in my view, by LCM. We live in exciting times, and it will be interesting to see what options continue to develop in the future.”
And it isn’t just in the area of examinations that LCM are looking to innovate and lead the way, but also in the area of publications…
When new Publications Officer David Duncan told me that he hopes to significantly shake up their publications, I quietly thought to myself ”thank goodness”, as their previous efforts haven’t been particularly user friendly, well edited, or attractively presented.
That said, nothing prepared me for the extent and speed with which LCM Publications would reinvent itself: their new collection of selected works from their Piano Diploma syllabus has taken my breath away.
Put simply ’In Concert’ is an extraordinary achievement, and in a completely different league from LCM’s previous published efforts. And whether of not you are interested in LCM’s Diploma exam, this is a highly desirable new collection for players looking for interesting and diverse repertoire at this level.
Let’s take a closer look…
The Selected Works
According to the book introduction:
“In Concert provides nine piano works, selected from the Diploma of the London College of Music (DipLCM) Piano Syllabus. These works have been chosen to give pianists a broad range of repertoire to perform from, spanning 300 years of music in a wide variety of styles. We hope you enjoy exploring the repertoire and that In Concert provides inspiration for many original and creative recitals.”
The selected works included in the 84-page book are as follows:
- Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750):
Prelude and Fugue in D major (No.5 from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1)
- Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Sonata in C minor Op.13 (Grand Sonate pathétique) – complete
- Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944)
Automne (No.2 from Six Études de Concert)
- Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Ostinato (No.146 from Mikrokosmos)
- Mel Bonis (1858-1937)
- Amy Beach (1867-1944)
Cradle Song of the Lonely Mother
- György Ligeti (1923-2006)
Arc-en-ciel (No.5 from Études pour piano, premier livre)
- Philip Glass (b.1937)
Etude (No.2 from Etudes for Piano, Book 1)
- John Howard (b.1950)
In Concert is a sturdy book with a high-grade card cover and good paper, well printed throughout. The binding appears rather stiff at first, but easily stays open on the music stand. The review copy was able to withstand considerable abuse without complaint.
The cover for In Concert was created by the artist Mattia Lullini in direct response to the pieces within the book. In his work Mattia enjoys exploring how visual marks can be made subconsciously, in this case under the influence of music. David Duncan tells me:
“We are going to be working with a variety of young artists in our forthcoming books, exploring the links between visual art, and music and drama, and giving our students books which they will remember long after their exams are over.”
In keeping with the publication as a whole, I personally found the cover somewhat austere, but tasteful and certainly appropriate for a publication aimed at Diploma level performers:
The book benefits greatly from an introduction by acclaimed concert artist Joanna MacGregor, who writes of the pieces:
“They give a good snapshot of the huge range of repertoire available to a pianist. There’s Baroque keyboard brilliance, and a highly dramatic classical sonata; later romanticism and impressionism; unbridled folk and jazz-inspired music; understated minimalism and twenty-first century language. The nine composers – men and women – come from all over the world, and their music represents diverse cultural backgrounds.”
Joanna also provides Performance Notes for every piece here, which are included before the notation of each. The Performance Notes are (as one would expect) informative, well-researched, engaging to read, and add considerably to the value of the collection.
Joanna’s biography (and that of composer John Howard) is included at the back of the book.
Editing and Fingering Matters
The music editing for In Concert was done by David Duncan himself, and is somewhat stark. The underlying philosophy would seem to have been to keep any editorial intrusion to an absolute minimum, reproducing the original scores with the utmost faithfulness and authenticity. It is an admirable goal, and one which is wholly appropriate at diploma level.
The primary editorial sources are listed in the introduction to each piece, alongside any significant editorial notes.
As for fingering, a note at the start of the book explains:
“Any fingering indications given in In Concert are the composers’ own. No editorial fingerings have been added, as the right fingering for the right passage is so often dependent on the performers themselves. We encourage everyone learning the pieces to experiment and find their own fingerings, and above all, to annotate their own copy of the music.”
While I would encourage any diploma level pianist to acquire a complete edition of the Bach Well-Tempered Clavier and Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas, their inclusion here, along with the Bartók piece, certainly demonstrates that LCM’s commitment to diversity happily coexists alongside an ongoing commitment to the core piano repertoire.
And – importantly for review purposes – it gives us a chance to easily compare and contrast their editorial stance with that of other publishers.
Compared to the old Donald Tovey edition of the Bach from which I learnt this Prelude and Fugue back in my student days, the score here is strikingly clean, with no editorial additions such as suggested tempo indications or fingering. It was a joy playing through the pieces from such a clear score.
The ornaments are reproduced accurately here (as per the holograph manuscript or 1722-3, held at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin), rather than being replaced by the more generic alternatives as has sometimes been printed elsewhere, and the Performance Notes include meticulous explanations of the less familiar ornaments of the original manuscript, as well as advice about arpeggiation of chords.
Readers familiar with this work will know that the Fugue is somewhat controversial in that some performers choose to double dot the quavers throughout, in the manner of a French Overture – Joanna MacGregor shares:
“My advice is to play them exactly as written, rather than double dotting, which starts to sound neurotic.”
Placement on the page is certainly spot on – the music here is fabulously edited, engraved and presented. And the same can be said of the Beethoven Pathétique – the opening of which ironically shares the same double dotting controversy. And again, ornamentation is carefully explained and illustrated in the excellent Performance Notes.
In the slow movement, this edition preserves the distribution of notes between hands given in the original first edition of 1799 (Eder, Vienna), showing clearly the top line melody. Once again, I found this much easier to read than some of the alternatives I have seen, although there is one page turn more than I would have preferred.
Turning to the Bartók score, my comparison here is with the outstanding new edition of Mikrokosmos published by Wiener Urtext Edition in 2016 (UT 50413) which has set a new benchmark.
Comparing the two side by side, the detail is practically identical.
The spaciousness of presentation and clarity of engraving is also comparable, although I must admit that I prefer the Wiener Urtext music font (and cream coloured paper!) – and for scholars that edition also offers a far more detailed critical commentary of editorial decisions.
The Remaining Works
I suspect that many more advanced pianists will be interested in purchasing this volume to acquire excellent scores of the other six works included.
Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944) is, in my opinion, still far too underrated. I fell in love with her Concertino for flute and piano as a teenager, and subsequent encounters with her music has reaffirmed my enjoyment of her musical language, which (like so many composers of her era) owes fairly heavily to Liszt (both in terms of harmony and piano technique and filigree), while retaining that indefinable Gallic spirit of her peers in France. Automne is a dramatic and picturesque piece, full of gorgeous expressive shifts. Here’s a recording of this wonderful work performed by British-Canadian pianist Valerie Tryon:
Mel Bonis (1858-1937) left over 300 works, including more than 90 solo keyboard pieces. The Carillon mystique beautifully evokes the resonant sonorities of the bells of the title, building on the foundation of a pedal bass that gives the piece a static, spiritual quality. It is another great addition to the pianist’s repertoire, and I look forward to hearing it in concerts soon.
The Cradle Song of the Lonely Mother is a late piece by Amy Beach (1867-1944), intensely quiet and introspective, built on a lilting 9/8 pulse. The RH melody is largely in thirds, including a passage where chromatic scale in minor thirds is played with a pianissimo hush that requires supreme control.
György Ligeti’s Etudes are undoubtedly one of the great classical piano works of the twentieth century, and Arc-en-ciel (“Rainbow”) is among the most popular pieces from the collection. This is a dense score, which must be performed with radiance and tremendous control, as pianist Johannes Friedemann does in this concert performance:
Philip Glass (b.1937) is – as I have written here before – not a composer I readily warm to. However, there’s no doubt that many will be thrilled to see his Etude No.2 included here. An archetype minimalist piece with a particularly uplifting harmonic progression throughout, even I am tempted to give the piece (and composer) another chance!
John Howard (b.1950) composed his Dream Sequences in 1975, writing in a modernist style and incorporating birdsong. This challenging and hauntingly atmospheric piece appears here for the first time. It ideally requires a middle sostenuto pedal for full effect (as notated) but can be approximated without. John is currently Director of London College of Music Examinations.
LCM Publications have, with In Concert, produced a brilliant and varied collection of advanced piano music whose appeal should go far beyond those with the narrow interest of taking one of LCM’s Piano Diploma exams.
That said, for those who are interested in doing so, the anthology is really an excellent way of acquiring a varied programme of works that will no doubt remain in the syllabus after it is revised in 2018.
When it comes to music editing and presentation, let there be no doubt that LCM Publications have very significantly raised the bar with this volume. It is certainly some of the very best scholarly music editing I have yet seen in any exam board publication.
Given the excellence, attention to detail, and commitment to quality in this publication, I am excited to see what LCM Publications do next. We pianists won’t have to wait long, as their brand new Piano Exam Syllabus and associated publications are all expected this Autumn.
In Concert is simply fabulous – go out of your way to have a look!