Einaudi: Underwater Extra

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Ludovico Einaudi’s Underwater proved one of the musical successes of 2022, and my review here equally proved to be one of Pianodao’s most widely read of the last year.

The immensely popular Italian composer’s first solo piano release for several years, Underwater showcased an evolution in his style, the pieces not only exploring the ‘felt piano’ sound but having a more concise compositional structure, less repetition, and a melodic intimacy that added to their wide appeal. I certainly found this music more satisfying to play than Einaudi’s earlier work, and I found that many who hadn’t enjoyed his previous work found these newer miniatures genuinely appealing.

Now, Chester Music bring us Underwater extra edition, a slim folio of three additional pieces, bonus tracks from the album that were previously unavailable.

The unexpected arrival of the publication coincided with my convalescence from eye surgery; having been confined to my bed for more than a week, they were the first three pieces I played once I was finally able to sit at the piano. Did I enjoy them?

“extra edition”

Presented in a publication that has a near-identical cover to the main album, the three new pieces on offer in Underwater extra edition are all written with the same concision as the twelve titles of the main album.

In common with those pieces, these previously unreleased compositions are within the technical and musical reach of pianists at later intermediate level (around UK Grade 5 level). However, it should be noted that the scores do not include fingering or specific pedalling suggestions.

Given their brevity, none of the three pieces outstays its welcome, and all would make for useful study material. Specific pedagogic benefits include the development of a cantabile tone, legato octave playing, controlling balance between hands, pedalling, crossing hands, developing rubato and a sense of deliberate rhythmic flow.

85mm opens the collection. Based on a typical Einaudi left hand riff, and blessed with an appealing harmonic progression, the insistent melody line switches between the bass (played by the right hand, crossing over) and the upper registers, with effective use of the piano’s highest octave.

Adieux is, with 87 bars generously spaced across five pages, the longest piece of the three. Opening in C minor, the primary melodic interest is a slow, descending scale pattern in right hand octaves. The evocative sinking feeling resolves contentedly in E flat major.

In triple time, with the left hand tracing basic triads across the range of a tenth, and a central section which repeats and builds on the main harmonic progression, this is the most predictable of the pieces here, a recapitulation of classic Einaudi tropes.

The Tree completes the triptych eloquently, and the composer’s recording has just been released as a digital single:

Here we return to the Einaudi of the Underwater album: subtle, simple, searching, understated, The Tree would certainly not have seemed out of place in the main album and is for me the most welcome addition of the three.

Further Thoughts

As so often with the music of Einaudi, I find myself in two minds about these pieces, not least because the composer’s undeniable character and influence have cast such a long shadow over contemporary piano music, and done so much to repopularise accessible instrumental music.

Admittedly, among the many composers who have joined this particular space there are some whose music I now find more inventive and appealing. If their music has burst the banks of the stream that Einaudi was a strong source of, with Underwater he has perhaps returned the favour, swimming with the latest musical currents and proving himself a continuing master.

In that broader cultural context, the three new pieces in Underwater extra edition are neither groundbreaking nor essential. They are, however, engaging reflective miniatures which I have genuinely enjoyed spending time with.

If you already have the main edition of Underwater, and have been enriched by the gorgeous music within that collection, I can only imagine that you will equally enjoy these new works.

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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.