Schott’s Easy Concert Duets

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

A few years ago I reviewed Schott’s Easy Concert Pieces, a series of three excellent anthologies of core classical repertoire, which progressively deliver a rich pedagogic diet of music suitable for elementary to intermediate players. Since then I have been using these cost-effective books at my studio in Milton Keynes, where they have proved especially popular with teenage and adult learners.

Now, Schott are back with a new collection, this one more suitable for early advanced players, and delivering an appealing selection of core material for piano, four hands. The book offers “20 Original Pieces from 4 Centuries”, and includes favourites by Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Bizet, Fauré, Moszkowski, Debussy and more.

With ‘social distancing’ a receding memory for most of us, this could be a great time to start exploring the duet repertoire, and this just might be the ideal collection to help us do that. Let’s find out if it is…

Easy Concert Pieces for Piano Four Hands is edited by the piano duo of Mona and Rico Bard, who tell us in their introduction:

For early advanced players setting out with their first serious duet partner, or those who have previously played easier or lighter duet music and are now ready to discover the blockbuster favourites of the repertoire, it would be harder to come up with a more enticing list of essential music:

  • J.C. Bach: Rondo from Sonata in F, Op.18/6
  • W.A. Mozart: Allegro from Sonata in D, Kv.381
  • F. Schubert: Military March, Op.51/1
  • R. Schumann: from Pictures from the East, Op.66/2 and 4
  • J. Brahms: Waltzes, Op.39/1, 2, 3, 11, and 15
  • G. Bizet: from Jeux d’enfants, Op.22/3, 4, and 11
  • G. Fauré: from Dolly Suite, Op.56/1 and 3
  • M. Moszkowski: Spanish Dance Op.12/2
  • C. Debussy: En Bateau, No.1 from Petite Suite
  • P. Hindemith: Waltz, Op.6/5
  • G. Ligeti: Allegro from Sonatina (1950)
  • P. Wittrich: The Little Prince (No.1)

This is a certainly a winsome selection, pitch perfect for players around UK Grades 7-8 level. With such a collection of “must-have” favourites in one beautifully produced volume, it seems to me no less tempting than its initial promise.

The latter part of Schott’s claim is literally true, but only due to the inclusion of a small piece from Peter Wittrich’s quirky The Little Prince, a Schott publication that appeared in the last decade.

But the appeal of the book is in its stylistic diversity, and especially its focus on the hugely popular and evergreen duet music of the nineteenth century. And as with the three solo collections in the series, there’s a pervading sense that this collection is top heavy with solid music, classics which have truly stood the test of time.

As a sampler book for newbies to dip into, the collection could easily provide a gateway to the full works from which popular movements have been plucked. The Mozart Sonata movement, one of his best and most popular, thus sets the scene for delving into his other works for four hands, while the pieces by Bizet, Debussy and Fauré open a door to some of the most treasured gems of the French duet repertoire.

The (perhaps lesser-known) pieces by Johann Christian Bach, Robert Schumann, Paul Hindemith and György Ligeti are equally welcome additions, shining a light into some of the potentially forgotten corners of the literature. And perhaps a closer look at The Little Prince is also overdue!

The book itself is handsomely presented, the striking gloss card cover housing 92 pages printed on luxury cream paper.

The book begins with the editors’ Preface and Contents pages, following which the majority of the book is taken up with the scores. These are spaciously presented, and benefit from Schott’s usual, beautiful engraving.

It’s always pleasant to play from a score such as this, where care has been taken to match where possible the phrases of the music to the lines of the score, and position page turns at section breaks, and at the points in the music where they can be navigated most easily.

Carefully crafted for their educational value, the editors tell us,

It is perhaps a quirky approach, but with open and honest intent. The personalised touch of an experienced duo certainly doesn’t go amiss, but playing through a few of the scores with which I am most familiar I was not struck by anything genuinely unexpected here.

The fingerings are particularly helpful, and I certainly feel that I can commend these scores to readers for their consistency and clarity.

Completing this attractive package, the Bard’s have recorded the individual parts, making the audio available for download from Schott’s website, using a voucher code found within the book. They tell us,

These recordings are certainly useful and enjoyable to play along with. They are recorded at slightly slower than the optimum performance tempi, but it’s worth noting that as standard mp3 files the tempo cannot further be altered without using separate software.

They are also played straight, without musical effects such as agogics, fermatas, ritardandos, accelerandos, and so on. Further, the editors did not record the two parts together as a duo for inclusion here, noting that players can easily access recordings of full performances on streaming services.

The simple concepts are often the best, and Schott’s Easy Concert Pieces series continues to impress with this latest addition.

Delivering a generous selection of the most popular early advanced concert works for four hands, Mona and Rica Bard have curated a superb introduction to this special repertoire, with scores that make a fabulous working text.

As such, and without reservation, the collection is very easy to recommend!

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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.