Schubert’s “Fantasy Sonata” in G major

Sheet Music Review

20th March 1989 is embedded in my memory as the evening on which I attended one of the most magical classical piano recitals!

Although I was seated in the balcony, and towards the back of London’s Royal Festival Hall, I could just as well have been sat in the front row, such was the silent rapture of the audience. In semi darkness, lit by just one small lamp, the legendary Sviatoslav Richter quitly took to the stage and opened the recital with the hushed tones of a simple but fully-fleshed G major chord.

At this point in his career, Richter had given up announcing his programme – which didn’t stop tickets for his recitals from selling out within minutes of going on sale. But that opening chord was sufficient to announce to the pianophile audience that we were about to be served a very special musical treat:

Schubert’s magical “Fantasy Sonata” in G major, Op.78, D.894.

In Richter’s hands, this joyous work took on a new dimension – and not least because of his controversially slow interpretation of the first movement, lasting a full 25 minutes (compared to the more usual 15 – in Wilhelm Kempff’s recording this movement lasts just 10’54”, albeit omitting the repeats).

While I love Schubert’s Sonatas as a whole, the G major is perhaps even more dear to me than the others because of this much-treasured memory. So I was delighted when the brand new Bärenreiter Urtext edition dropped onto my door mat for review …

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A Piece a Week Grade 4

Sheet Music Review

Paul Harris’s excellent A Piece a Week series has already prompted many of us to reevaluate how we encourage our students to develop their reading skills at the piano, providing delightful collections of pieces suitable as quick study material at Grades 1 to 3.

I have previously reviewed the Grade 1 and 2 books here, explaining the concept of quick study material in more depth; if you are coming to this review fresh please have a read of that introduction before going on.

I have also reviewed the Grade 3 book here. And for a second opinion, check out Liz Giannopoulos’s comments in her recent article about playing at sight here.

I am delighted to see, and to let you all know that those books have now been joined by the Grade 4 book – so let’s take a quick look!

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The ‘Deliberately Forgotten’ Composer

Sheet Music Review

The name Vsevolod Petrovich Zaderatsky (1891-1953) may be a new one to most readers – but if so it is perhaps because the authorities of the Soviet Era condemned this extraordinary composer to be “deliberately forgotten”.

But with the first edition of his 24 Preludes and Fugues (1937-9) – which were composed while Zaderatsky was a prisoner in the dreaded Kolyma forced-labour camp – newly published worldwide, his fortunes may be posthumously about to change…

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Mindfulness in Music

Book Review

Once upon a time, books were something very special – not mere repositories of bullet-pointed knowledge, but containers of true magic whose words could unfetter the imagination and conjure into being a genuine sense of wonder.

It seems to me that as the internet age comes to maturity there has been a concurrent if unexpected reappraisal and renewed appreciation of the tactile immersion made possible by a traditional, high-quality physical book.

Riding the crest of an exciting wave of publications crafted to the highest standard, and with a deliberate nod towards the publishing values of an earlier generation, comes a small but highly significant volume by Mark Tanner entitled Mindfulness in Music, published by Leaping Hare Press as an imprint within their ongoing series of mindfulness-related books.

The book is an inspirational delight from cover to cover (and including the covers themselves!) and I highly commend it to Pianodao readers as the “must-read” book of the season…

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Ultimate Piano Solos

Sheet Music Review

Faber Music have been producing a steady flow of printed compilations of piano music for some time, with a focus on bringing together pieces from films, arrangements of hit songs, and popular classical favourites.

Latest addition, Ultimate Piano Solos boasts “over 50 bestsellers” and offers an appealing selection of mainstream favourites that most people will instantly recognise.

Keenly priced at just £15.99 it offers excellent value, and is perhaps the ideal collection for the enthusiastic player at around Grade 5 level who wants to grow their repertoire of popular favourites.

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Latin & Jazz Preludes

Sheet Music Review

Much-loved composer Christopher Norton turned 65 this June, and while celebrating the milestone, long-time publishers Boosey & Hawkes issued newly repackaged editions of his hugely popular Latin Preludes Collection and Jazz Preludes Collection, complete with accompanying CDs featuring newly-recorded demonstration performances by pianist Iain Farrington, who also delivered the recordings included with the more recent Eastern Preludes and Pacific Preludes Collections.

What better time to reappraise these publications?

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Mosaic Volumes 1 & 2

Sheet Music Review  by Guest Reviewer Karen Marshall

I was delighted last week to receive the above publications which I have been readily using with my students of all ages and grades.

Initial impressions after using Mosaic with my whole teaching practice are that these books are best placed with the teenage and adult market, but with material also for primary age children. Younger children in my practice loved compositions in the collection particularly by Ben Crosland and Sarah Konecsni.

This is a job well done, and I congratulate all the composers and Nikolas Sideris on the contents of these volumes.

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Rachmaninoff: Critical Urtext Edition

Sheet Music Review

Given the ravishing Romantic beauty of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s piano oeuvre, it’s easy to forget that the composer only passed away in 1943, meaning that for copyright purposes new editions of his works are only now beginning to significantly make their mark.

Chief among editions must surely be the colossal Critical Edition of the Complete Works edited by Valentin Antipode and published by the Russian Music Publishing in 2005, in association with Schott Music GmbH and Boosey & Hawkes.

Now available, the “Practical Edition” for performers is based on that groundbreaking benchmark edition.

This review will take a look at Volumes 2-4 in the ongoing series. In case you are wondering, Volume 1 apparently won’t be available for a little while yet, but I hope to bring you a review once it is!

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Mystery Piano

Sheet Music Review

Of the many new piano collections reviewed here on Pianodao over the last couple of years, one of the smaller number to make a particular impact within my own teaching studio has been Hans-Günter Heumann’s Fantasy Piano, reviewed here, which has become a firm favourite with early-intermediate players. Pieces such as Rainbow Fairy and The Sunken Island of Atlantis have started to appear in our regular student concerts, and clearly appeal to players and audiences alike.

Heumann has now produced a brand new collection – a sequel, again published by Schott Music, called Mystery Piano. So let’s see how it compares…

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Piano Studies for Technical Development

Sheet Music Review

Pianists and teachers tend to have a variety of views about the value of “studies”, some strongly advocating daily practice of finger exercises, others suggesting they have little value away from the context of specific repertoire, in which case bespoke studies developed around tricky passages are preferable.

Personally I’ve always taken a middle path here. As I wrote in my recent article The Three Treasures of Musical Learning,

“All aspects of playing need consideration, not merely finger independence, tone control, and fluency – important though these obviously are for pianists. Scales, arpeggios, exercises and studies can all be helpful, but must be executed with an understanding of why they matter, and what is being developed.”

I’ve never found it difficult to understand or explain the benefits of the enjoyable little exercises in the Dozen A Day books, and my students almost always find the Burgmüller Op.100 both musically engaging and inspiring to play (my recording of them is free to listen to here).

But I’ve never been a huge fan of Hanon, Czerny, et al, and have tended to agree with my teacher’s teacher, Ernö Dohnányi, who wrote (with irony, in the introduction to his own book of finger exercises!) –

“In music schools, piano tuition suffers mostly from far too much exercise material given for the purely technical development of the pupils, the many hours of practice spent on these not being in proportion to the results obtained. Musicality is hereby badly neglected and consequently shows many weak points.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that when Gayle Kowalchyk and E.L. Lancaster’s two books of Piano Studies for Technical Development landed on my desk for review, my initial gut reaction was to excuse them from the short-list for consideration. Until … I took a closer look.

Let’s find out why I changed my mind …

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Debussy: Images & Pour le piano

Sheet Music Review

As many will know, pianists and classical music lovers are this year marking the centenary of Debussy’s death in 1918.

In a previous post I addressed the frequently asked question, “where to start?” exploring his piano works, suggesting Bärenreiter Edition’s Easy Pieces and Dances collection and their excellent urtext edition of the Preludes livre 1 as great entry points.

In this post I will look at a couple of Bärenreiter’s other Debussy editions – the two volumes of Images, but first Pour le piano. These are virtuoso concert works which qualify for the diploma and professional tag in terms of difficulty.

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The Graded Piano Player

Sheet Music Review

The Graded Piano Player is a series of three books from Faber Music, comprising arrangements of well-known tunes specially arranged by leading educationalists for pianists from around ABRSM Grade 1-5 level.

Published back in 2016, the books return to the spotlight as two of these arrangements – Close Every Door from Book 1 and Wouldn’t it be loverly from Book 2 – have been selected for ABRSM’s brilliant new 2019/20 syllabus (which Karen Marshall and I reviewed here).

When pieces are selected from the “alternatives lists”, there’s always a danger that a pupil might be expected to purchase a separate book from which they will only ever play a single piece – so teachers, parents and students will undoubtedly be interested to hear what the rest of the book is like, and in this instance the rest of the series.

With that in mind, let’s take a look …

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