Once in every while a music book arrives on my review desk which is simply too wonderful for words, and yes! this is one of those!
Surprisingly so, perhaps, given that on paper this looks like a rather plain anthology of well-worn diploma repertoire. According to the blurb,
“This unique collection contains 21 pieces from the ATCL repertoire list for Music Performance Diplomas in Piano from 2019. The most popular recital choices join lesser-known treasures, allowing performers to create diverse and compelling programmes, whether preparing for a Trinity diploma or not.”
So you’re possibly wondering what lifts it above the exam jargon and makes it truly special. Let’s find out…
Becoming a Classical Pianist
There are of course many stages in becoming an accomplished and experienced classical player and the development of a core Active Repertoire lies at the heart of all of them, from learning the foundations through elementary and intermediate level, to the higher grades at advanced level.
But it is possible, even easy, to reach first diploma level in the UK today with, at best, a scant overview of the core repertoire of the piano.
In most exam syllabi, the player can reach Grade 5 without presenting a single piece written before the twentieth century, and it’s not uncommon to meet players at Grade 8 who aren’t sure how to tell Mozart from Chopin.
As serious players reach towards their first diploma there’s no doubt that any gaps here should be addressed as a priority. And Trinity College London’s new Recital Anthology not only provides the means to do so, but delivers a superb edition of essential repertoire in the process, chronologically arranged for clarity.
Here is the full list of included repertoire:
- J.S. Bach: Toccata no. 5 in E minor, BWV 914
- Händel: Suite no. 8 in F minor, HWV 433
- Haydn: Sonata in Eb major, Hob XVI/49
- W.A. Mozart: Sonata in F major, K 332
- Beethoven: Sonata in C minor, op. 13 ‘Pathétique’
- Schubert: Impromptu in Eb major, op. 90 no. 2
- Chopin: Nocturne in Bb minor, op. 9 no. 1
- R. Schumann: Novelette no. 1 in F major, op. 21
- Liszt: Sonetto 123 del Petrarca (from Années de pèlerinage, 2nd year)
- C. Schumann: Scherzo no. 2 in C minor, op. 14
- Brahms: Intermezzo in A major, op. 118 no. 2
- Debussy: La plus que lente
- Scriabin: Deux poèmes, op. 32 (nos. 1 and 2)
- Coleridge-Taylor: Deep River (no. 10 from Twenty-four Negro Melodies, op. 59)
- Bortkiewicz: Lamentation no. 1 in D minor and Consolation no. 2 in D major from Lamentations and Consolations book 1
- Bartók: Suite, op. 14
- Szymanowski: Étude No. 3: Andante – in modo d’una canzone (from 4 Études, op. 4)
- Kabalevsky: Preludes nos. 5 and 6 (from 24 Preludes, op. 38)
- Sculthorpe: Mountains
- Kapustin: Big Band Sounds, op. 46
- Wilkinson: Oiseaux d’eau (Water Birds) (no. 19 from Piano Portraits: 24 Vignettes in Diverse Styles)
It is clear that editor Steven Osborne has sought to include as many as possible of the “greats” of the repertoire, although space presumably precluded featuring Scarlatti, Rachmaninov, Ravel and Prokofiev.
Some many bemoan the paucity of music by black or women composers (just one predictable example of each), while the inclusions by Bortkiewicz, Kabalevsky and Wilkinson are unexpected pleasures.
Overall, the music here is undeniably exquisite, allowing plenty of scope for players to assemble varied and appealing recital programmes without needing to look further afield (although it’s always a good idea for a diploma exam to throw in something less expected).
So far, then, we have gone from wondering whether this might be a lacklustre exam publication to realising it is indeed a treasure chest of fabulous music. But it’s the publication itself which elevates A Recital Collection to its full greatness…
The book itself arrives as a very classy tome, with matt silver soft covers housing the 240 pages printed on cream paper, all stitched together with the quality of binding one expects from the likes of Bärenreiter or Henle.
The contents are printed on the inside front cover, and after the title page the book starts with a two-page Editor’s Preface written by Steven Osborne. I have to admit that I had no idea of Osborne’s prowess as a music editor, but from his comments here it is immediately apparent that his approach is special indeed.
Osborne explains, carefully but succinctly, how editing priorities changed between the classical period and the early twentieth century, editors’ input becoming progressively more intrusive. While there are few surprises here, it is when he goes on to explain how editors of today’s urtext editions often standardise the musical text that at least one of my eyebrows started to resist the pull of gravity.
As Osborne puts it:
“My objection to editorial standardisation of the text is philosophical as well as practical – it subtly encourages the mind-set that the performer just has to follow the score. The alternative of being confronted with the messiness of the source material demands a different kind of engagement from us, a more active weighing and questioning of what is on the page, and a more creative mind-set. Certainly anyone playing at the level demanded by the wonderful and challenging works in this volume should be grappling with the question of what the music expresses.”
The Editor’s Preface is followed by twelve pages of Performance Notes co-written by Osborne and John Paul Ekins. These go into considerable and welcome detail, offering a historical narrative for the music as well as in-depth advice on interpretative engagement and performance. There’s enough here to furnish any recital programme note!
The scores which follow are as beautifully presented as they are precise, and of the highest standard.
In keeping with Osborne’s view that the performer should work at their own interpretation, the notation is sufficiently spaced to allow for plenty of pencil markings and annotation, while he has also added minimal fingering in a few mission-critical places. Coming from a pianist of his stature, this too is highly welcome.
Lastly, I should add that in addition to the superb printed score, A Recital Anthology is alternatively available digitally from Trinity’s website here.
Exam board publications are almost always of a fairly high editorial standard, but Trinity’s A Recital Anthology undeniably raises the bar; and of course the music here is of far wider interest than simply those preparing for diplomas.
For those doing so, it’s worth spotting that several of the pieces here are also included in the syllabi of other exam boards, but my honest feeling is that this is a collection that deserves the status of “set text” for any player at this level who wants and needs to get to grips with a balanced range of core piano repertoire. It is such a good selection, so well edited and presented, and could easily fill a couple of years college-level study.
If you are in the market for an expansive, representative collection of music from the core classical piano repertoire at first diploma level, this is then without question the best I have seen.
A truly exceptional publication.
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