As I write this, the UK is one of many countries in the grip of a historic heat-wave. Suffice to say that when the weather here turns Mediterranean in feel, I have a tendency to uncork a fine bottle of Rioja and reach for the Albéniz CDs.
The piano music of Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909), it seems to me, occupies a uniquely odd position in the classical piano repertoire.
On the one hand he would seem to be universally admired, his monumental series of 12 piece Iberia roundly hailed as one of the seminal masterpieces at the very pinnacle of the “core repertoire” (and yet rarely performed or recorded!). On the other hand, many pianists complete their lifetime journey at the piano without once opening one of his scores.
As well as the stunning Iberia cycle, don’t miss the gorgeous Suite Española Op.47, scenic Recuerdo de Viaje Op.71, accessible España Op.165 and the brilliant Cantos de España Op.232. All are easily available as sheet music scores.
A brand new edition of the last listed of these works has recently been issued in the Alfred Masterworks Edition library, so let’s take a closer look.
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 …
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.
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 Preludesand Pacific Preludes Collections.
What better time to reappraise these publications?
Bartók’s monumental cycle of 153 educational piano pieces and 33 exercises, published in six volumes as the Mikrokosmos in 1940, is rightly regarded as a seminal work within the pedagogic literature. But it often strikes me that it is more important than it is popular.
Even in my own studio (and I am a self-confessed Bartók fanatic!) it emerges from the music cupboard far less frequently than the more obviously popular For Children, First Term at the Piano, Rumanian Folk Dances and Ten Easy Pieces.
For those wanting to explore this musical smorgasbord there has never been more opportunity to do so, however, with three excellent editions to choose from. Which, though, is the best?
In this review I will be looking at classic New Definitive Version from Boosey & Hawkes, and comparing the more recent Urtext editions from Henle Verlag and Wiener Urtext Edition. I should note in passing that there is also a budget all-in-one-volume edition from Chester Music, not submitted for review or included in this survey.
It’s all about Claude Debussy for classical music lovers and pianists this year, as we mark the centenary of his death in 1918.
And rightly so! Because few composers have made such a seminal contribution to the pianist’s literature, or composed music which explores such a range of colour, tonal possibility and timbre from the instrument.
Later on in this review I will be taking a look at the Bärenreiter Urtext edition of Debussy’s Préludes (1er Livre).
But first, what about players who aren’t yet sufficiently advanced for these masterpieces? For the developing pianist, the question often arises – where to start exploring Debussy’s rich, varied and substantial body of piano music?
The good news is that, while Debussy never wrote anything simple, his oeuvre does offer up plenty of music that suits pianists of early advanced, around Grade 5-8 level. And while many of these pieces are among the world’s most cherished, a few remain surprisingly less well-known.
This new format “Show & Tell” review includes both a video, in which I will show you the latest publications from Henle, and a scripted review below, with links to more information on the publisher’s website.
Benny Andersson Piano
Music from ABBA, Chess and more –
21 transcriptions for solo piano. A MUST this Christmas.
When the store manager of Banks, Music Room York, introduced me to the new Benny Andersson Piano book I knew I had to buy a copy. I really haven’t been disappointed – not only has it been wonderful to play, it has brought back so many memories.
I am just 7 years old stood in the living room, wobbling in my Mum’s high heels, wearing a favourite long frilly skirt and hair brush gripped in hand. And yes, I’m singing! I’m singing my little heart our pretending I am Anni-Frid in Thank You For The Music.
And it appears that Benny himself has been down memory lane recording the Album, from which this music was transcribed by Göran Arnberg. In his own words ………
“In the process of recording this album, which has been tremendous fun, I have come to realise that the pieces I have chosen to play are an integral part of me. In endeavouring to reach for some core within them, I have found that the more I strip away the clothing, i.e. treatments and arrangements from the ‘original versions’, the closer I feel to the music, regardless of whether it was created last year or 40 years ago. In a strange way, I feel like I’m playing my memoirs.” Benny Andersson
The composer Bohuslav Martinů’s name will be known to many readers, but perhaps fewer will be familiar with his piano music – other than the gorgeous miniature Colombine Dances, which was such a popular choice when it was set for ABRSM Grade 6 a few years ago, subsequently appearing in the third Encore book.
Born in 1890, Martinů is rightly regarded as one of the great Czech composers of the early 20th century. He was impressively prolific, leaving 15 operas, 14 ballet scores, 6 Symphonies, and a very large body of instrumental and choral music. His musical influences were eclectic – embracing modernism, neo-classicism, jazz and Latin American dance music.
All of which are evident in a new collection of previously unknown piano works, brought to us by Bärenreiter.
In my recent review of Bärenreiter’s new edition of the Sonata in A major K331 by Mozart, I mentioned that they are a publisher who take pride in achieving the highest standards in all their publications. In their own words:
“Bärenreiter Urtext is a seal of quality assigned only to scholarly-critical editions. It guarantees that the musical text represents the current state of research prepared in accordance with clearly defined editorial guidelines. Bärenreiter Urtext: the last word in authentic text – the musicians’ choice.”
Piano Kaleidoscope is a new piano anthology, produced by Bärenreiter as an appetiser for their Urtext Editions, specially priced at the pocket-money price of just £4.00. And it is the best bargain I’ve ever reviewed here!
But who is it for, and does it achieve more than its basic aim of promoting the rest of their published range? Let’s find out…
Published in 1784, Mozart’s Sonata in A major, with its famous Rondo Alla Turca finale, is one of the most popular works in the entire classical piano repertoire. Now, a newly resurfaced section of the autograph has prompted Bärenreiter to issue an up-to-date Urtext edition of this celebrated piece.
According to the publishers,
“The editor, Mario Aschauer, has set new editorial standards and offers the most innovative methodological approach of our time. His scholarly-critical performance edition is the only one to remain entirely true to the sources by presenting the musical text of the autograph and the original print separately.”
Along with their outstanding new version of The First Term at the Piano – which I recently reviewed here – Bossey & Hawkes (in conjunction with Hal Leonard) have also just released the Bartók Piano Anthology.
Here’s a look at this interesting addition to the Bartók catalogue…
One of the highlights of last year, in my view, was the publication of Christopher Norton’s outstanding Eastern Preludes Collection, which I reviewed here.
Eastern Preludes continued a series of piano solo collections for the intermediate-to-advanced level pianist, which already included the best-selling Jazz Preludes, Country Preludes, Rock Preludes and Latin Preludes collections – so naturally I wondered what might come next.
And here it is: The Christopher Norton Pacific Preludes Collection, comprising 14 brand new compositions suitable for intermediate to advanced players (around UK Grades 6-8).
Publishers Boosey & Hawkes welcome us to:
“Embark on a voyage of discovery with this captivating collection of 14 new Pacific Preludes from the creator of Microjazz, inspired by traditional music from the shores of the world’s largest ocean.
Explore the rich and varied musical landscape of the Pacific Rim as each Prelude weaves together native themes from countries including Australia, China, Peru, New Zealand and the United States of America with Christopher Norton’s characteristically innovative popular musical styles.”
Compare weekly cinema attendance with the numbers who go to classical concerts (or any other sort, come to think of it!) and you will be left with no doubt as to why music composed for films works its magic in the hearts and minds of listeners more than any other genre.
And it is no wonder that those who take up an instrument are so quick to ask teachers if they can learn their favourite film themes.
In the case of the most popular composers and successful scores, there’s very often a tie-in publication so that fans can buy the sheet music, as was the case with the excellent La La Land score which I recently reviewed here.
But for those after an anthology of their favourite pieces, the choice is not so easy. Some publications of this kind provide poor transcriptions, while others aren’t sympathetically arranged for piano, taking account of the player’s level.
It is with real pleasure that I can therefore warmly recommend the latest piano book from Faber Music, a collection simply entitled Film Themes: The Piano Collection.
Alan Bullard will be known to many readers for his many contributions to popular educational series such as Piano Time from OUP and Piano Star from ABRSM. His Joining the Dots series of sight reading books for ABRSM and the excellent adult piano method series Pianoworks, co-written with his wife Janet, have also become well known favourites.
Alan’s latest publication is brought to us by Colne Edition, distributed by Spartan Press, and is entitled Twelve or Thirteen Preludes for Solo Piano.
Ahmad Jevdet Ismail oglu Hajiyev (June 18, 1917 – January 18, 2002) was one of the major Azerbaijani composers of the Soviet period.
A student of Shostakovich, Hajiyev composed eight symphonies, three poems, the opera Veten (“Motherland”) (in collaboration with Gara Garayev), string quartets, solo piano music, choral and vocal works. He also taught at the Azerbaijan State Conservatory for more than four decades, while serving as a Rector from 1957-1969, and as Professor of Composition.
In 1997, the President of Azerbaijan bestowed upon Hajiyev the country’s highest accolade, the Azerbaijan Order of Glory, on the occasion of his 80th Jubilee, commemorating ‘60 long years of fruitful work which is highly appreciated by the nation and the State’.
To celebrate the centenary of his birth, the Muradov Family Archive has released Piano Collection book 1, with a series of concerts to be held in some of the finest concert halls around the world.
Piano Collection book 1 is brought to us via the ever-enterprising EVC Music Publications in the UK, and can be purchased from the EVC Music website here, where you can also listen to audio samples of most of the pieces (these are MIDI versions rather than performances).