Faber Music have established a reputation for producing interesting and beautifully presented piano collections in recent years, ranging from their standard-setting Faber Music Anthologies series to less imposing but equally attractive compilations.
Their latest is called Play Piano for Well-being, which offers a typically diverse assortment of popular and easily accessible pieces.
In common with last year’s Peaceful Piano Playlist, this new addition similarly compiles a wide range of music in the manner of a Spotify playlist, the hope being that the “31 uplifting piano solos” contained within will bring delight to players and listeners alike.
English composer Rachel Portman is best known for her many gorgeous film scores, including the music for such blockbusters as Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, The Duchess and The Lake House.
Portman’s latest musical project is Ask the River, a self-contained CD of piano-led instrumental reflections on the natural world, with an accompanying book from Chester Music delivering solo piano versions of all 13 tracks, the subject of this review.
According to the composer,
“I wrote this collection of pieces throughout 2019. They are the fruit of many years spent being immersed in nature. What can be more inspiring than the green shoots of new beech leaves appearing in the woods with the dappling light reflected in the spring breeze? These pieces are a personal reflection on the beauty of the earth around us – the trees, flora, rivers, birds, animals and all her gifts to us. I hope you enjoy exploring them as much as I loved being inspired by the natural world.”
One of the many positive developments within the piano teaching and performing community in 2020 has been a re-evaluation of the contribution of musicians of African descent to the repertoire.
A primary sourcebook for this music, Oxford University Press published Piano Music of Africa and the Afrian Diaspora in five volumes, compiled and edited by William H. Chapman Nyaho, between 2007-8. Between them, the books offer 60 pieces by 36 separate composers of African descent, organised by difficulty level as follows:
Volume 1: Early Intermediate
Volume 2: Intermediate
Volume 3: Early Advanced
Volume 4: Advanced
Volume 5: Advanced
More than a decade has passed since the publication of these books, and it is odd that so little of this music has made its way onto concert platforms or found regular use in teaching studios, exams, and homes.
Quite why more haven’t picked up this music is a mystery, because anyone with a fair mind and musical imagination will discover as soon as they explore these OUP volumes that the music of these neglected composers is consistently superb.
Melanie Spanswick enjoys a very successful career as a pianist, teacher, adjudicator, writer and blogger. In recent years she has added composer to this list, with a succession of publications beginning with easy minimalist pieces for EVC Music, and now writing for Schott Music.
Enrique Granados (1867-1916) was one of the great composers to expand the piano repertoire in the twilight years of the Romantic era, and must be counted among Spain’s most marvellous writers for the instrument; so it is a shame that so much of his output remains too little-known and rarely performed.
Less than a handful of easy miniatures have been picked up by exam boards and anthologies, the same few repeatedly so, revealing not only a lack of imagination but too limited a knowledge of Granados’s music, which in fact includes a significant body of music suitable for intermediate and early advanced players.
Meanwhile, the mighty cycle Goyescas belongs aside his compatriot Albéniz’s Iberia suites, but alas, only a couple of movements appear on concert programmes with any frequency.
At the centre of Granados’s output, the twelve Danzas españolas are a fabulous collection suitable for the advanced player (around UK Grades 6-8).
And while (unlike Albéniz) much of Granados’s solo piano music is closer in tone to Schumann than to Spanish flamenco, these pieces are replete with the regional flair and the sunny countenance that lends colour and a hint of exoticism to the best Spanish music. This is Granados at his most rustic.
That much of Granados’s music is difficult to find in good, widely available editions doesn’t help. Those wanting to play the Danzas Españolas relied on old editions by IMP and Dover. Happily, these marvellous pieces can now be explored in a superb new urtext from Henle Verlag, the subject of this review…
“I love nighttime. I love the mood of night, and feeling all of New York City light up from endless skyscrapers. There’s something very inspiring and even reassuring and calming about that to me. New York at night is very romantic, I think”
So writes Ola Gjeilo in the introduction to his new album Night, available on CD from Decca (purchase from Amazon UK here) and sheet music from Chester Music/Hal Leonard (the subject of this review).
Those who’ve not yet had the joy of discovering Gjeilo’s music are in for a treat with this album and will hopefully also explore his previous work, including the earlier piano albums Stone Rose (2007), Piano Improvisations (2012) and his immensely popular choral music.
So let’s take our time and journey towards the dizzying and inviting lights of Gjeilo’s Night…
One of the most extraordinarily popular and successful British composers of his generation, John Rutter’s choral works, anthems, hymns and carols are beloved the world over for their distinctive mix of French choral, English pastoral and American popular influences.
Rutter has enjoyed a long career at the pinnacle of the English choral world, from his appearance as a chorister in the first (1963) recording of Britten’s War Requiem (conducted by the composer himself), through his time at Cambridge and his numerous prestigious appointments and accomplishments up to the present day.
Now his Piano Collection: A Flower Remembered, brings together 8 of his best-loved choral pieces in new transcriptions for solo piano.
Appearing both as a 21-minute recording by Wayne Marshall (available on the usual streaming platforms and to purchase in MP3 format here), and as a sheet music publication from Rutter’s publishers OUP, the arrival of The John Rutter Piano Album is something of an event to truly cherish!
In this review, it’s my pleasure to review three recent publications of Garreth’s music, two of which appear under his alias Garreth Broke: Healing and Dance, both published by Editions Musica Ferrum, and thirdly Solo Piano: Selected Pieces, which Garreth has self-published via Amazon.
These publications have all appeared within the last year, but Garreth has been publishing recordings of his music on Soundcloud, Bandcamp and elsewhere for several years, gaining an appreciative audience drawn to the new-classical style and emotive qualities of his writing and playing.
When Schott Music delivered their gorgeously presented Relax with Beautiful Piano Music series of five books back in 2016, I concluded my review:
“What excites me is that these books so brilliantly meet the demand expressed by so many of my teenage and adult students for beautiful music that can be enjoyed for enjoyment’s sake.”
Is it really four years? Well, I am happy to report that during that time several of my adult students have been using these marvellous collections, and without exception absolutely loving the selections of music they contain.
In most cases, having bought one book they have rushed to buy others in the series without prompting, an obvious indication of enthusiasm, and interestingly the Baroque and Classical books have proven particularly popular.
Happily for all, Schott Music are back with an encore, a sixth book again selected by British concert pianist Samantha Ward. With the title Relax with Meditative Piano, it promises to be another winning selection of great music. So come on, let’s see what’s in it…
In the conclusion to my recent review of Bärenreiter’s recently published Jonathan Del Mar edition of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, I noted,
“With the appearance of Jonathan Del Mar’s new benchmark edition for Bärenreiter, we have less of an excuse than ever when it comes to understanding and interpreting the master’s intentions… This magnificent resource is surely not only a new landmark in Beethoven scholarship, but for pianists its issue is the publishing event of the decade.”
In the light of such high praise, eyebrows might be raised at the spectacle of me now reviewing an alternative edition. However, it’s only fair to admit that however definitive an edition is (and the Del Mar edition is as definitive as they come), there is still space for more than one edition of these masterpieces on our shelves.
Given the complexity of establishing an exact text of these core works, and the performance considerations they raise, I certainly welcome the option of having a couple of editions to consult, especially if they offer complementary strengths and insights.
Also last year, and with the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth clearly in sight, Wiener Urtext released their own fully updated and revised urtext edition of the Sonatas in three volumes, UT 50427/8/9.
Without detracting from my enthusiasm for the Del Mar edition in any way at all, there are good reasons why some players might welcome the strengths offered by the Wiener Urtext editions, or even prefer them; this review will focus on explaining what I think those are…
From time to time I review a music book here which subsequently establishes itself as a favourite with my students; such a book was the brilliant Birds: Études-Tableaux composed by Andrew Higgins, which I reviewed here.
I was therefore naturally pleased to receive Higgins’ latest collection, Seasons, which is again published by the forward-looking publisher EVC Music, whose many recent useful and eye-catching publications have made such a positive mark on the pedagogic repertoire in recent years.
Rather than lazily giving us more of the same, Seasons is quite a different proposition from Higgins’ last book, so let’s take a closer look…
Over the last three years, Faber Music seemed to establish a pattern of releasing deluxe Piano Anthologies in the run up to the Christmas season. For 2020, they have ‘upped the ante’ by bringing forward the next title in this stunning series to the Spring, with further anthologies (Contemporary and Easy) already in preparation.
The Faber Music Jazz Piano Anthology builds on the quality of its predecessors to deliver a sumptuous and brilliantly conceived book of jazz standards, newly arranged as piano solos for more advanced students and adult piano enthusiasts everywhere.
Edition HH is one of the few independent boutique publishers whose releases consistently impress, with an enterprising and eclectic catalogue that ranges from Baroque and Classical rediscoveries to contemporary compositions.
Among the latter, Edition HH publishes the work of Italian composer Adriano Cirillo, born in 1951 in Bari. Cirillo studied with acclaimed composer Nino Rota, who is perhaps best known for his scores to movies such as The Glass Mountain and The Godfather, but who also composed ten operas and a significant body of concert works.
Rota’s influence is palpable in Cirillo’s hugely enjoyable Duex Valses, freshly published by Edition HH and the subject of this short review…
Alan Bullard will be known to many readers for his many contributions to popular educational series and in particular the excellent adult piano method series Pianoworks, co-written with his wife Janet, and recently reviewed here.
In addition to his educational publications, Bullard is a busy and accomplished composer of concert works, including the recently published Twelve or Thirteen Preludes for Piano Solo: Set Two (Minor Keys), a collection that follows on from the first Set (written in each major key), which was published back in early 2017 by Colne Edition, and distributed by Spartan Press.
With this new publication, Bullard joins the ranks of composers (including J.S. Bach, Heller and Chopin) to have written a Prelude in each and every one of the 24 major and minor keys. And I think they make a very solid collection, one that deserves wide currency…
Once in a while, a publication arrives for review which is based on a great concept and is itself essentially a very good product, but where the mismatch between the original intention and its actual delivery is a glaring one, as though at some point in the developmental process there was a communication breakdown.
Core Classics: Essential Repertoire for Piano, a set of seven progressively “graded” solo repertoire books published worldwide today by ABRSM, is a striking example of this phenomenon.
That is a particular disappointment, given that this is actually a beautifully presented and musically interesting series. So let’s find out exactly what Core Classics has to offer…
As publishers prepare for the 250th Anniversary of the birth of Beethoven, several have been revisiting his Piano Sonatas, a steady flow of which have been arriving for review over recent months.
First to deliver their new version of the complete cycle are Bärenreiter, whose edition of all 35 Sonatas (including the three early Sonatas WoO 47) is now complete and available in a variety of formats.
An epic achievement, this new edition has already won the hearts and minds of some of the world’s greatest Beethoven interpreters; those giving glowing endorsements include Marc-André Hamelin, Angela Hewitt, Stephen Hough, Robert Levin, Leslie Howard and Igor Levit (whose recording of the cycle I recently reviewed here).
To quote Paul Badura-Skoda:
“Jonathan Del Mar’s Beethoven edition is unparalleled in terms of its precision. What I value most about it is the use of lesser-known or previously unknown sources, the commentary, which is the most extensive to date, and the discussion of problematic sections. I wholeheartedly recommend this new edition of Beethoven piano sonatas.”
As the 250th centenary of the birth of Beethoven approaches, it’s no surprise that the major publishers are issuing new and updated editions of his major piano solo works.
The monumental cycle of 35 Sonatas (the “New Testament” of the solo piano repertoire) are inevitably a centrepiece of the release schedules of several major publishers, but Beethoven’s other piano works mustn’t be overlooked.
Happy news, then: Henle Urtext have brought out an updated edition of Beethoven’s Variations for Piano in two volumes.
The first volume [HN 1267] appeared a couple of years ago, but it’s the second [HN 1269], now available, that may prove the more irresistible.