It is always great to discover a new composer whose music makes an immediate and impressive mark. As reviewers, it’s perhaps these moments we look forward to the most.
In this review, I am happy to recommend two recently published music books by Angeline Bell, a Malaysian piano teacher based in the UK, who only discovered her gift for composing in March 2022 when, having contracted Covid she was forced to take time away from her usual teaching schedule.
Encouraged by her friends, Bell approached Editions Musica Ferrum owner Nikolas Sideris, who agreed to publish her music. Further spurred on by his enthusiasm, Bell quickly composed 40 pieces which she and Sideris have divided into two contrasting piano collections (suitable for intermediate players at around UK Grades 3-6), the subject of this review…
My Lyrical Notebook
Many of Bell’s pieces have a romantic hue; twenty of these have been brought together as My Lyrical Notebook.
The gorgeous artwork that graces both this and My Quirky Notebook is the work of Rebecca Harrie, and these covers stand out as among the most striking yet in the Musica Ferrum catalogue.
Within the 48-page book (printed as ever on high quality cream paper), the twenty pieces are well and spaciously presented. Most occupy two pages, although a few are a single page, and towards the end of the book, a few three-page pieces await. Preceding the music, the composer has included two pages of Performance Notes offering brief insights into the pieces.
Sitting at the piano and playing through the first few pieces, I was soon struck by their appeal. I could wax lyrical about My Lyrical Notebook, but I have no idea how I would pick out favourites pieces without trying to paint my own verbose picture of each and every one of them.
How impressive that as the book progresses, there is no lapse in the consistency of quality and invention. Nor, despite the title and overarching theme of the collection, is there any lack of variety: conveying a range of moods, depicting a multiplicity of scenes and telling a miscellany of tales, My Lyrical Notebook is simply bursting with great pieces.
Happily, you can hear them all for yourself, performed by Sideris in a complete album recording available on major streaming platforms, or you can listen in full here. As you read on, you can also enjoy these preview clips:
Best of all, and unlike some contemporary music, these pieces are just as enjoyable and rewarding to play as they are to listen to.
And finally, Bell’s experience as a teacher is easy to detect in these pieces, rich as they are in pedagogic content and detail.
My Quirky Notebook
Turning to Bell’s Quirky Notebook we find all the same qualities: music that is well crafted, full of character and variety, equally suited to public recitals, piano lessons or casual pleasure.
Here, the pieces include even more range, taking in dance rhythms, jazz-tinged harmonies, scenic depictions and easy cartoonish humour. Most of the pieces consummately hit their spot, although in a collection with such variety, players will naturally warm to some pieces here more than others, discovering their own personal favourites along the way.
Once again, the music can be streamed in the usual places, enjoyed in full here, and the preview clips give more of a flavour than the pithiest prose:
A particular strength of these pieces is that they not only have catchy tunes, but each has its own sufficiently vivid character to inspire expressive engagement in the developing player; once again, then, these pieces are a tremendous gift to the teacher’s pedagogic and musical arsenal.
This is definitely one of those occasions when I can highly recommend you delve into the music for yourself, and make up your own mind. If you aren’t quite ready to throw caution to the wind and purchase both books, I suggest starting with My Lyrical Notebook, to my mind the stronger and more rounded of the two collections.
At a time when the market seems somewhat flooded with superb collections of piano music, new and old, it is certainly a challenge for any new publication to establish its foothold, but in my view these books deserve a wide uptake, and I suspect they will have one.
With these two collections, Angeline Bell has certainly burst onto the scene with music that has the same explosive energy as the flora and fauna erupting from the pianos on her book covers. On the strength of these, her debut publications, she can be greeted as a major talent.
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