Jakub Metelka: Little Virtuoso

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Reviewing Modern Piano Studies by the acclaimed Czech pianist, teacher and composer Jakub Metelka back in 2019 I concluded:

“Above all, Jakub Metelka’s Modern Piano Studies offers a set of fun little pieces which marry the benefits of piano studies to the delights of musically engaging bonbons suitable for informal performance and student recitals…
I suspect that teachers who try this book with a single student will soon find themselves returning to it with others, and that it will quietly establish itself as an essential studio favourite.”

It is no surprise that Modern Piano Studies has become an international bestseller, and as a follow-up Bärenreiter have now also published his collection Little Virtuoso, which earlier received the Bronze Medal at the Global Music Awards in 2017.

15 Pieces for Piano

According to the composer’s website,

“This new piano album contains 15 recital pieces – short, witty, characteristic compositions with flawless melodic, harmonic and pianistic workmanship. It allows little virtuosos not only to train their technical skills (from fairly easy to moderately difficult), but also to sharpen their grasp of the pieces’ moods and to stretch their musical imagination.”

The pieces have highly imaginative titles:

  • Swan on Ice
  • Pet Cemetery
  • Ancient Kingdom
  • Calm Ocean
  • Devil’s Waltz
  • Paper Aeroplane
  • Lonely Mill
  • March of the Chicks
  • Little Elephant
  • Rain Fairy
  • Old Sailor
  • Snowflake
  • Sailboat
  • Lark
  • Beauty Riding

Odd though it might sound, the pieces remind me of Chopin’s Preludes, each a miniature miracle that evokes and contains its own little world. And like those pieces, Metelka’s are written in a Romantic, tonal style. The only characteristics that place them more obviously in the contemporary era being the occasionally angular melodies and subversive harmonic twists.

Have a listen for yourself and see what you think (and please let me know with a comment below): recordings are available on the Bärenreiter website product page here.

…for Little Virtuosi

Bärenreiter’s presentation is as lush as ever, the book arriving in a highly appealing soft cover illustrated (as was Metelka’s previous volume) by Andrea Tachezy:

Tachezy’s illustrations festoon the innards of the book too (in black and white), and are truly delicious. That said, the 24 cream pages within are largely given over to the notation itself, each piece spaciously presented and superbly engraved in this publisher’s house style.

Fingerings, and in some cases alternative fingerings, are given throughout. Pieces range in length from a half a page to three, the majority taking up a single page. Only a couple of pieces require page turns.

So far, so child-friendly. But it’s at this point that the book paints itself into a bit of a corner, because the technical difficulty of the music will only be appropriate to the most talented of the youngsters to whom the presentation will especially appeal.

While the pieces generally fit nicely under the fingers, many are written in the most challenging keys, E flat minor, B flat minor, D flat major, C sharp minor, G sharp minor all making an appearance.

Metelka’s Modern Piano Studies neatly introduce these keys, but children whose learning pathway is being structured around the UK/international exam boards are only likely to encounter them at around Grades 5-6 level. This makes the book best suited to the youngster who has progressed unusually quickly, or to the student following a fast-track approach that eschews graded exams.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, Metelka has created a superb resource for the Little Virtuosos of the title, for whom the book will perfectly hit the spot. And I cannot think of another collection that fills this particular niche so engagingly.

These are exquisite compositions, several cuts above the bland fare too often served up to younger players.

It’s interesting to note the predominance of minor keys, giving the material a somewhat darker hue than younger children will often find in music elsewhere. This surely works to the collection’s advantage, helping it to stand out in a busy crowd of publications aimed at the younger age group, and appealing to the humour and curiosity of young minds.

Jakub Metelka has delivered another stunning musical feast, and for young players who are up to the challenge, Little Virtuoso can be recommended wholeheartedly and unreservedly.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.