That’s the first word that came to me as I unpacked the advance review copy of Lang Lang’s Piano Book when it arrived back in February, and it is rightly the first word of this review.
Because Lang Lang’s Piano Book is without question one of the most lush sheet music publications I have ever seen. So, right away a huge round of applause goes to Faber Music for a job magnificently done.
But beyond the opulent presentation, what actually is Lang Lang’s Piano Book? Let’s take a look…
The Album of the Album
First things first. Lang Lang’s Piano Book is not just a book; it’s a new recording (Lang Lang’s first for three years) available worldwide from Deutsche Grammophon on 2 CD’s, digital download and streaming services.
The recording features 29 tracks, all of which are also brought together and published here in Faber Music’s “Artist Approved Collector’s Edition”, together with exclusive photographs and an edition of Für Elise annotated with Lang Lang’s own (very tidy) written performance notes.
Here’s the promotional video from the publisher:
Writing about his choice of pieces, Lang Lang tells us:
“With Piano Book I’m going back to my first love, to the pieces that made me want to become a musician in the first place.”
He goes on to say in his Foreword,
“I would love to inspire everyone to play the piano – and what better way than through a collection of the most significant pieces from my own personal musical journey, the repertoire that shaped me as a player and created my great passion for the piano. All the music in this book has huge personal importance to me and reflects my deep love of every aspect of the piano.”
Here is the list of the pieces Lang Lang selected:
- J.S. Bach: Prelude in C major
- Beethoven: Bagatelle in A minor, “Für Elise”
- Max Richter: The Departure from “The Leftovers”
- Mendelssohn: Spinning Song
- Debussy: Clair de lune
- Chopin: Prelude in D flat major, “Raindrop”
- Debussy: Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum
- Mozart: Allegro, 1st movement from Sonata in C major, K545
- Clementi: Andante from Sonatina in C major
- Czerny: Presto from The School of Velocity
- Yann Tiersen: La Valse d’Amélie
- Schubert: Moment musical in F minor
- Grieg: To Spring (An den Frühling)
- Debussy: Reverie
- Poulenc: Staccato from Villageoises
- Hu-Wei Huang: The Merry Shepherd Boy
- Schumann: Wilder Reiter (The Wild Horseman)
- Badarzewska-Baranowska: The Maiden’s Prayer
- J.S.Bach att. Petzold: Minuet in G major
- Ryuichi Sakamoto: Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
- Chinese trad: Jasmine Flower
- Mozart: Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman”
- Korean trad: Arirang
- Elena Kats-Chernin: Eliza Aria
- Swedish trad: Limu, limu, lima
- Ginastera: Danza de la mozo donosa
- Elgar: Nimrod from Enigma Variations
- Scott Joplin: Maple Leaf Rag
- De Lulli: The Chop Waltz (“Chopsticks”)
The first point to make is that, as a teacher, it would absolutely make my day if parents would rush out and buy the CD’s for family listening! And I’m sure that many, if not most of my adult students will be wanting a copy right away.
Some thoughts about the pieces
Aside from a few notable absences (Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Yirumi’s River Flows in You, the music of Eric Satie), the repertoire here reads like a dream list of most requested pieces, with a few lesser known and unexpected extras thrown in which give the book its unique and delicious character.
Teachers will note that there is quite a range here in terms of difficulty level, with pieces from about ABRSM Grade 2 to 8 included, and as they follow the album order, they are not sequenced according to difficulty. I think it would be wrong to see this as a weakness, however.
It seems to me that the very purpose of this book is its longevity, the point being that a player will live with the book, exploring its content over many years, dipping into it between other playing (for example, the student enjoying popular repertoire between grades and other learning).
Adult piano enthusiasts will especially enjoy the fabulous range here, with easier accessible pieces that can be mastered in an evening, alongside other more challenging pieces that they have perhaps always yearned to play.
A Special Book
Given that the collection is designed to give a lifetime’s pleasure, it’s good to note that the book is equally designed to last that long.
With a sturdy (and beautiful) hardback cover with gold inlaid text, the highest grade cream paper I’ve seen, exquisite stitching and even an integrated ribbon bookmark, it’s fair to say that the book positively screams “quality”, the words “no expense spared” quickly coming to mind.
The one down-side is that the book does require a little persuasion to stay flat on the music stand, and of course nobody would want to damage so special a book.
At the front, there are several full page colour photos of Lang Lang himself, dressed in chic attire and striking a variety of clothing-catalogue poses such as this one:
At the rear of the book, meanwhile, there are four pages of colour photos from the pianist’s student years, from photos of the extrovert five-year-old’s first recital, to snaps with his teachers (including Gary Graffman), and culminating in a shot from a concerto debut.
The actual music itself is spread generously across 115 pages, and is beautifully and spaciously presented. A special nod must go to music engraver Donald Thomson for processing an exceptionally clear and well laid-out score.
There’s a good balance of fingering included throughout, but oddly little pedalling (in some cases even the composers’ pedalling indications are missing, for example in Grieg’s To Spring).
Lang Lang’s tips
Lastly we come to Lang Lang’s personal editorial input. Some might assume this to have been minimal, but it certainly appears that he took a hands-on interest in the drafts and development of this superb publication.
Most impressively, every piece is preceded by a personal introduction. These chatty comments highlight why each piece is so special, as well as offering tips and advice to players.
Take the opening Bach Prelude in C major for example; here’s what Lang Lang has to say:
“You know, many pieces in this book are in C major, but this is certainly one of the most important. Although it is short, it is a masterpiece in miniature, with a structure as perfect as any symphonic movement.
The dynamics here are my own interpretation.”
That final comment is perhaps the most telling; certainly when I played through the score (without reading Lang Lang’s words) I wondered who had added the editorial dynamics. I confess to being a little surprised to discover that it was Lang Lang himself. And as you would expect, they offer a deeply musical interpretation (far more so than some of the editorial dynamics I’ve seen added in exam publications).
Lang Lang is quick to encourage creativity too; in some piece introductions he notes that his recorded versions include embellishments, encouraging pianists to similarly explore the music for themselves:
“You’ll notice I create my own variations in the second half. You should feel free to develop your own version of it too.”
Lang Lang’s introduction to Jasmine Flower
For a few pieces, the advice offered is somewhat minimal, but overall Lang Lang’s comments on each piece are helpful and at times fascinating.
Lang Lang’s Piano Book really is a stunning achievement, and I can see it appealing to a huge audience.
For some, it will be a much-loved piece of fan memorabilia to accompany the CD release; for others, a great collection of their favourite pieces, gorgeously and meticulously presented in a single volume; for still more, this will be a book that students can cherish and return to over several years of study.
I think it best, ultimately, to judge it on the terms that Lang Lang himself intends:
“This is the music that has shaped me as a pianist and musician from the very beginning; I hope you enjoy playing it as much as I did.”
I simply can’t imagine any pianist not enjoying this truly stunning collection, and can only conclude that Lang Lang has succeeded 100% in his aims. He really has completely nailed it. This book is one to treasure for a lifetime.
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