Composer Ben Crosland will be known to many Pianodao readers for his popular Cool Beans series of books published by Editions Musica Ferrum, the most recent and in my view best of which, Magic Beans, I reviewed here.
Ben’s latest publication from Editions Musica Ferrum is Songs from Rainbow Hill, a collection of “Lyric Pieces for Solo Piano” that ties in with his new album recording of the same name.
As such this is very different from his previous publications, taking us deeper into Ben’s own compositional world. So let’s enter …
Given that Songs from Rainbow Hill is firstly an audio recording (sadly only available digitally at present) it makes sense to start with the music before looking at the score.
Here’s the official trailer, introducing some of the highlights:
Ben’s music here is in that accessible contemporary classical style that resists easy categorisation, although numerous influences suggested themselves to me as I listened to the album.
Much of the music is pattern based, though perhaps closer in tone to the melancholy of Max Richter than to Ludovico Einaudi. There are some gorgeous melodic lines, intelligent harmonies, and in several of the pieces dramatic dynamic outbursts, often redolent of Romantic Classical music, perhaps even the English Pastoral composers of the early twentieth century.
For all these influences, this is very much music of our time, and personal to its composer. And overall there is an expressive lyricism here which I find deeply satisfying.
There are 14 pieces altogether, 13 of which are piano solos. The other piece, Love’s Grove has an obligato ‘cello part, although this is essentially an accompaniment to the piano itself.
A particular strength of the collection is the variety of tone. The pieces touch on a wide range of moods and tempi, giving the album a rounded sense of completion when enjoyed as a whole.
The existence of a beautifully produced and commercially available score sets Songs from Rainbow Hill apart from the many “contemporary classical” albums which are presently vying for airplay.
Ben’s regular publisher Editions Musica Ferrum has certainly done a great job of producing a handsome score to complement the release of the audio recording. In contrast with their more colourful recent scores, this publication is announced with this stylish line-drawn illustration:
The book cover is on thick matt card, and feels very classy. Within, the score is printed on white paper (unusually for this publisher), and is a simple affair.
After the title page, which lists credits and standard copyright information, it’s straight to the music itself. There isn’t a contents page, nor any information about any of the included music, its genesis or context, which is a bit of a pity.
The pieces do, however, tell their own story very effectively; I found it really enjoyable playing through them, and I have no doubt that I will be returning to them many times.
The notation is nicely engraved and spaced, and suitable fingering is included. It’s the nature of such pattern based writing that sometimes the notation can look visually daunting, but most of the pieces here are quickly accessible thanks to the well-judged presentation.
The figurations in That Was Then seemed to me less pianistic than elsewhere, albeit an interesting technical challenge. Also worth knowing, several of the pieces require a fairly large hand stretch. Overall, the pieces are late intermediate to early advanced level, although in some cases more extended in length than pedagogic or exam pieces would be.
Having already enjoyed listening to the album, playing through the pieces at the piano left me in no doubt that they are several cuts above the vast majority of the new music that comes my way. I’m genuinely very impressed!
Teenage and adult players who enjoy this style of music will, I suspect, as quickly fall in love with this lush collection as I have. While I already had a true admiration for Ben’s composing, with this collection he has produced a particular gem.
This is intelligent but very accessible music, offering a depth of expressive engagement and a variety of beauty which is too often missing in contemporary collections.
How wonderful that this music, such an enjoyable listen, can even more be treasured as a professionally produced score; one which allows pianists everywhere to take pleasure in exploring these fabulous pieces.
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