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Philip Martin has long been well-regarded as one of our finest concert pianists, recording artists, pedagogues and composers, writing music that combines the influences of the folk music he grew up with, the British classical scene he trained in, and a longstanding passion for American classical and jazz music.
Now, in what must be regarded as a landmark publication, a retrospective collection of his more jazzy solo piano pieces have been published by Elena Cobb’s EVC Music Publications Ltd.
New York Nights offers the more advanced player a veritable “greatest hits” of Martin’s more accessible pieces, and promises to be an essential purchase.
Let’s take a look…
Philip Martin has earned himself an enviable international reputation as a concert pianist through his infectious and charismatic performances. As a recording artist, too, he has made a significant mark with his releases on the RCA Red Seal, Chandos and SOMM labels, and notably his benchmark 8-CD survey of the complete piano works of Gottschalk for Hyperion.
Born into a music-loving family in Dublin in 1947, Martin quickly discovered his affinity with the piano, playing from the age of three. By the age of six he was already performing, and he won an ABRSM scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London while still in his teens, studying both piano and composition.
There, his teachers included the pianist-composer Franz Reizenstein (who was himself a pupil of Paul Hindemith, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Solomon). His time with Reizenstein, and later, his many years of study with Louis Kentner (also a composer) set the seal on his future musical life where his talents in both areas continued to flourish in equal measure.
Martin’s passion for American music resulted in a UK-US Bicentennial Arts Fellowship to study, research and meet American composers in order to then promulgate knowledge of this music when he returned to the UK.
Back home, he gave the Irish premiere of Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto, which he also performed in Paris, Germany and Turkey. And in addition to his Gottschalk cycle, he has committed to disc two outstanding albums of music by Billy Mayerl, among many other fine recordings.
Alongside his career as a pianist and teacher, Philip became a well respected composer, his many and varied commissions including four Piano Concerti, a Harp Concerto, major choral and symphonic works, including his first Symphony, as well as chamber music and over 300 songs.
His works have been widely performed and commercially recorded, his music appealing to a broad audience, inimitably revelling in both his many influences and his own unique and consummate musical voice.
Housed in a glossy eye-catching cover, New York Nights is a simple affair; within there’s no text at all, just the 20 pages of the sheet music itself.
From the rear cover, meanwhile, we learn:
“New York Nights is a snappy, brilliant collection depicting the excitement and colour of the “Big Apple” where Philip Martin studied, lived and performed in the 1980’s and 90’s.
One minute we are in Latin Quarter and the next we are transported to the hustle and bustle of 42nd Street. Art, people and places are often a springboard for much of his musical inspiration.
New York Nights collection was composed for the adventurous pianist at Grade 8 ABRSM to concert standard with a jazzy flavour, but, with serious intent.”
The publication comprises the following seven pieces:
- New York Nights, Jazz Scherzo (2005)
- Night Music for Julia (2004)
- Alley Stomp Blues (2018)
- Spirit of Liberty blues (2002)
- Lozano Blues (2002)
- O’Keeffe Blues (2012)
- Broadway Boogie Woogie (2006)
The notation is crystal clear and generously spaced, and given the complexity of some of the pieces it is a particular credit to the publisher that the presentation is so beautifully done and user-friendly.
Appropriate fingering is also included throughout, and proved well-judged and most helpful when I played through the pieces.
I was not surprised to learn that the fingering is the combined efforts of the composer himself, publisher Elena Cobb, and Tania Kozlova (a professor at the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv). This unusual level of attention highlights Cobb’s particular efforts in her pursuit of excellence for her latest publications.
I had the immense privilege of hearing Martin perform all these pieces live across two evenings (mixed in with his other piano music in a range of styles) at the Chetham’s Summer School and Festival for Piano in Manchester last month (read my review here).
All, it must be noted, are extremely effective recital pieces, which of course left me favourably disposed and even more keen to share my review of the score.
The collection begins with the Latin-infused title-track, New York Nights, Jazz Scherzo, which you can hear for yourself as performed by the composer on his YouTube channel:
Full of joie de vivre, the principal challenge here is rhythmic; this would make a great showpiece at the end of a recital or in a student concert.
This is followed by Night Music for Julia, a piece which stood out as my favourite in his recital, but which is the least overtly “jazzy” of the collection. An intensely lyrical nocturne, the piece builds from a tentative non-tonal start to a lush tonal climax with a subtle hint of Copland.
Alley Stomp Blues and Spirit of Liberty Blues offer more overtly bluesy pieces, but in both cases the frequent time-signature changes keep both player and listener’s attention, avoiding the predictable while still cleverly evoking the spiciness of the tradition.
Lozano Blues is a slower and more reflective soliloquy. Here the characteristic time-signature changes have the effect of creating a spacious sense of rhythmic freedom in which the intriguing harmonies are allowed to fully blossom. A modulation down a semitone is cunningly disguised, but no-doubt surreptitiously adds to the wistful mood.
O’Keeffe Blues is similarly a slower piece, although here the compound time seems to channel an Irish Jig in slow-motion, dressed in advanced jazz harmonies.
The collection ends with a showstopper that is likely to become a firm favourite everywhere: Broadway Boogie Woogie is as a straight-up bar-room romp, complete with signature LH vamp and RH licks, interspersed with a couple of humorous bouts of self-doubt before reaching an affirmative resting point.
Once again, here is the composer performing this joyous piece:
All seven pieces presented in New York Nights genuinely enrich the advanced piano repertoire with their unique mix of good humour, lyrical melodicity, spicy jazz vibrancy and musical craftsmanship.
I really hope to see these life-affirming pieces appearing in many programmes, syllabuses, and concerts everywhere; they are sure to add joy to many a piano journey!
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