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Pam Wedgwood has long been one of the UK’s bestselling educational and contemporary piano composers, with several hugely successful series of books in her back catalogue.
Though now in her 70’s, she remains prolific; since starting to review music on Pianodao I have already written about her outstanding Jazzin’ About the Year (which has subsequently become one of the most popular collections with my own younger students), How to play jazz piano, and her 2017 collection Piano Gallery, about which I concluded:
“Pam’s knack for writing engaging idiomatic piano music and for creating satisfying character pieces with ongoing value seems to me perfectly distilled in Piano Gallery, making this a collection to truly cherish.”
Pam’s latest, Piano Seascapes, is the sequel to Piano Gallery, bringing players 12 new original piano pieces inspired by the sea…
Pam Wedgwood introduces this new collection as follows:
“Recently I moved house to live near the sea. This is something that I had always promised myself I would do in the coda section of my life. The move has proved to be a wonderful inspiration to compose evocative and descriptive pieces based on some of my favourite seascape paintings. In this collection I have tried to give each piece my own interpretation of the artwork with strong melody lines and imaginative settings. I do hope you will enjoy playing all the pieces and you feel inspired by the art collection. Relax and enjoy!”
Piano Seascapes has a near-identical look and feel to its predecessor, which is good news considering the lovely design both books now share.
All my comments about Piano Gallery apply again here: the book has a lovely cover design, is clearly printed on white paper within; notation is well spaced with clean presentation. Some fingering suggestions are included (I would have preferred more) but pedalling (necessary throughout) is rarely indicated beyond the instruction “con ped.”
The striking distinctive here, once again, is the pull out colour poster featuring all 12 artworks, predominantly late 19th – early 20th century oils, which have inspired these new compositions.
They are consistently brilliant, and I was eager to find out straight away whether Pam’s new pieces conveyed their many colours and moods effectively.
The short answer to this question proved to be “yes”, and overall I found the music in this collection to be more varied than that in Piano Gallery, including a good range of more contemporary styles.
Opening piece Victoria and Albert sets the tone for the collection with its carefree contemporary style, and sports a melody so catchy that it immediate became an earworm (in a good way!).
From a technical point of view, the theme here is repeated in octaves, needing good phrasing, while the LH plays a semibreve octave bass-line punctuated by additional higher chords on beats 2 and 4. Such demands are hardly uncommon, but require a solid pedalling technique and (preferably) hands that can comfortably play legato octaves.
With a good pair of ears, and especially with the evaluation and advice of a good teacher, players at around UK Grade 5 should find these pieces rewarding, and in general not too insurmountable a challenge.
Subsequent pieces include pop ballads, steady blues vamps, swing and Latin grooves and compositions in an easy contemporary classical vein. The final piece, Stormy Seas (inspired by Thomas Moran’s powerful The Much Resounding Sea) is a suitably dramatic duet, which proved much fun to play.
My personal favourite has to be Bathing Machines, which references Dave Rheum’s painting Victorian Bathing Machines and responds with a delicious swing tune that fabulously conjures seaside japes.
Each piece is introduced with a short comment by the composer, and preceded by a suitable verse from writers ranging from Jane Austin to Benjamin Franklin, and from William Blake to Kenneth Grahame.
There are just a few minor quibbles. Moonlight Bossa, for example, doesn’t channel the distinctive Bossa Nova rhythm, and is perhaps rather a Habanera (or even a Tango).
Sunset, meanwhile, is a beautiful piece only mildly spoilt (for me at least) by the wrong enharmonic spellings of notes in the middle section, where the C# major chord repeatedly appears with the note F in place of E#, a mistake which disguises the triad formation, making the simple harmony more difficult to read, explain and understand here.
Reviewing the previous Piano Gallery collection I wrote:
“Establishing such vivid links between music and picture, so encouraging intermediate players to foster an awareness of cultural connection and artistic cross-fertilisation, Piano Gallery succeeds in meeting an important end, and represents a considerable educational achievement.”
This time around I tried playing some of the pieces before looking at the artworks, only afterwards checking the poster. Only occasionally did I find it at all difficult to marry the image and sound; in most cases, the combination of artwork and music were mutually beneficial, suggesting that Pam’s aims here have again been nicely met.
Importantly, with Piano Seascapes, Pam Wedgwood has yet again further enhanced the intermediate repertoire with well-written and varied pieces that older students and amateur piano enthusiasts will surely lap up and find genuinely rewarding.
This is, then, a very well-considered, highly worthwhile and musically enjoyable collection, and I can easily recommend you have a look for yourself!
Also available • Andrew’s essential handbook:
How to Practise Music
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