The latest publication from Editions Musica Ferrum is a collection of “Animated pieces for the intermediate pianist” called Musical Escapades and composed by EMF newcomer James Welburn.
Let’s dive straight in…
The publication itself is as beautifully produced as ever from this publisher, with an eye-catching cover illustration by Liga Kitchen:
Within, the 24-page book is printed on high quality cream paper, beginning with title page, contents and a short preface in which the composer introduces the background to the pieces themselves.
“Musical Escapades is a collection of animated piano pieces that I have written with one thing in mind: they should be fun to play!”
The pieces themselves range in length from two to five pages, and are beautifully engraved with generous spacing, and there is ample included fingering.
Recordings of all pieces are included via download from the publisher’s website; this can be done using either the printed QR Code or simply by entering the given web address in your browser.
Regarding difficulty levels, the word “intermediate” is perhaps difficult to define, and in this case I would say the pieces would be at the top end of expectations, around ABRSM Grade 4 to 5.
About the Pieces
The collection begins with the jaunty Caravan Blues, a mid-tempo swing number with crushed notes and and blues-scale tropes abounding. The pieces is great fun to play, and intermediate pianists may well find it surprisingly easier to play than it sounds, thanks to the ergonomic blues fingering formations that lie so well under the hand.
Next there’s The Heroic Mouse!, probably the most difficult piece here, and at least Grade 5. On the recording the pace is very fast, but once again the finger patterns are somewhat a gift (although in a couple places I found the suggested fingerings odd). There’s a delicious humour here too, which I think will make this piece particularly appealing to younger aspiring virtuosi!
Chimes offers a distinct change of pace and mood. According to the composer,
“I wrote Chimes in memory of my grandad, Clifford, who was very fond of his long case ‘grandfather’ clock. Chimes is a gentle lullaby that features a variation of the Westminster Quarters melody, which Clifford’s clock would ring out every fifteen minutes throughout the day. I always remember that, whenever we stayed the night, we would have fifteen minutes to fall asleep before the next chimes went off!”
This is an evocative piece built on that recognisable theme; it appears at the start and end, played in octaves with added thirds over a held sustain pedal to create lush harmonics, setting the scene for the lilting melody which follows. Gorgeous!
Mosey on Down follows, another playful jazzy piece. This one is easier than Caravan Blues and suitable for players by Grade 4, although the LH jumps on the second page may challenge.
Shimmering Waters is a lovely ballad with a memorable, reflective melody line above a LH pattern (again requiring a bit of a stretch for smaller hands), tracing out expansive harmonies built from ninth chords. According to the composer’s note:
“Shimmering Waters is inspired by a recent family visit to the Lake District during which we had great fun stone skimming. The undulating left hand represents the calm rippling of the lakes, while the slightly dissonant right hand chords after each melodic line are reflective of the initial contact as stone hits water.”
This masterful piece is followed by the final number, Dansul Românesc, another uptempo piece, this time embodying Eastern European gypsy flair. Here it is, once again, the LH which has most of the challenges, with some four-note chords and rapid descending arpeggio patterns. It’s great fun to play, and provides an enjoyable close to the collection
This video preview from the publisher actually begins with Dansul Românesc before showcasing the other pieces, giving a good flavour of Welburn’s musical style:
Readers will realise that I receive for review quite a lot of new music written for players at this level; this book really does stand out from the crowd with its highly enjoyable mix of musical styles, all with catchy tunes and rhythms.
What impresses me most of all is the infectious good humour and the compelling imagination that runs throughout the whole collection.
Most of these pieces would individually make great choices for players at around Grade 4-5 (let’s hope that the exam boards pick them up in future syllabus revisions!), but taken as a whole Musical Escapades is actually a collection which many players will want to play from start to finish. There’s not a weak number in it, making it a great value purchase.
James Welburn has with this collection made a stunning Editions Musica Ferrum debut; he is clearly a composer to watch, and among this publisher’s rich and growing catalogue, Musical Escapades becomes one of their best publications yet.
I am delighted that publisher Editions Musica Ferrum are now offering a 20% discount on all publications to regular supporters of Pianodao who join the Pianodao Tea Room.
You can find out more about this new online piano club here. And if you have already joined, remember to enter your discount code when purchasing the book.
James Welburn’s Musical Escapades is available now from the Editions Musica Ferrum website here.
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