Valses Nobles et Sentimentales is undoubtedly one of Ravel’s most magnificent solo piano works, and after an inauspicious start it has steadily grown in popularity over the course of the last century, both in its original form and subsequent orchestration.
Though two of the easier movements have appeared in the UK Grade 7 and 8 syllabus, the complete work comprises eight short movements which present considerable challenge, both technically and musically.
Those at diploma level or beyond who are preparing to perform it will want to be diligent in sourcing an edition which combines an accurate musical text with a presentation that is equally suited to study and performance. There are several to choose from.
I have previously relied on the excellent Edition Petersurtext (edited by Roger Nichols, 2008). There’s also a more recent edition from Bärenreiter (2015). In this review however, I will be considering a superb new publication from Durand in their Musique française series.
Durand published the first edition in 1911; this new publication updates their 1921 reprint, giving that authorised musical text a spacious modern engraving, and including an introduction with performing notes by eminent French musicologist Edmond Lemaître. Read on to find out more…
MUSIC FROM CHOPIN’S LAND In 2020, I was commissioned by PWM Edition to record five films showcasing educational piano music by Polish composers. Captivated by my new musical discoveries, I have continued to independently explore and review the music of Chopin’s land…
Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne (PWM Edition) continue to live up to their remit of promoting Polish music with regular, excellent editions whose primary aim is to shine a light both on greater- and lesser-known works.
Having set new standards with Jan Ekier’s Chopin National Edition (while also preserving for posterity the revered Paderewski Edition of Chopin’s works), they have recently launched the first volume in a new edition of the works of Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831).
The sturdy, superbly presented and surprisingly inexpensive volume delivers Szymanowska’s Twenty Etudes and Preludes, dating from 1819.
In this review I will briefly consider the significance both of the composer and of the work itself, as well as appraising the new publication…
Schumann’s Romanze in F sharp Op.28 No.2 is one of my absolute favourite pieces to play, and with its inclusion on the ABRSM Grade 8 syllabus over the last couple of years it has also featured more prominently in my teaching. This truly beautiful paean to love is surely one of the highlights of the nineteenth century repertoire, and is understandably cherished the world over.
That said, many struggle to read the score accurately, which in most editions is compressed to two pages, dense with accidentals, counterpoint and three-stave passages.
A welcome solution has arrived with a new edition from Wiener Urtext Edition, who have generously afforded the piece four pages (including one page turn). Playing the piece using this version has proved for me a boon, the notation a model of clarity.
The other two Romances also appear more inviting here, freshly edited by Michael Beiche and with fingerings and notes on interpretation by Tobias Koch. So let’s take a closer look…
The two books of Préludes by Claude Debussy (1862 -1918) are undoubtedly among the most important and popular piano compositions of the early twentieth century, and have exercised a truly seminal influence on the piano music of subsequent generations.
Published in 1910 and 1913 respectively, each book contains 12 pieces, each one of them an invitation to another unique, fully imagined world. In many ways a summation of Debussy’s extraordinarily vivid piano writing, these miniatures are self-contained miracles of sonority, impressionistic and colourific effect; they are equally a lesson in taut compositional clarity and structural genius.
Originally published by Durand, the Préludes are now available in various combinations and editions from most of the major publishing houses, including Henle Verlag, Wiener Urtext, Edition Peters, Schirmer, Alfred and Dover.
In this review I am looking at the new urtext edition by Thomas Kabisch, published by Bärenreiter in two volumes; both volumes are exemplary in their scholarship, also including helpful editorial fingering supplied by the pianist Martin Widmaier.
Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) lived a life of music, but it was in his mature phase that he created the most enduring of his masterpieces.
Works such as The Cunning Little Vixen, the orchestral Sinfonietta and Taras Bulba, the Glagolitic Mass, and two popular string quartets have ensured that Janáček’s reputation is now immortalised as one of the greatest ever Czech composers, and a leading figure in the narrative of European music in the early twentieth century.
Janáček composed for the piano throughout his career, from his younger days as a student in Leipzig through to Vzpomínka [Reminiscence], composed in his final year. However, his major published works date from between 1900-1912:
On an Overgrown Path (1900, 1908, 1911)
Sonata I. X. 1905 (1905) and
In the Mists (1912).
In this survey I will take a look at each of these works, followed by a recent compilation of Janáček’s less well-known solo piano music.
In all cases, I will be turning to the benchmark editions from Bärenreiter, which can be regarded as the authoritative performing versions.
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is best known for his seven Symphonies, ever-popular Tone Poems and brilliant Violin Concerto; many pianists are unaware that he also wrote prolifically for our instrument.
Although Finland’s greatest composer famously declared that he didn’t like the piano and only composed for the instrument to generate income, he wrote more than 150 solo works, predominantly miniatures, and in many cases works of tremendous musical value and appeal.
Among these many works, the Three Sonatinas Op.67 are later pieces which fully embody the compressed craftsmanship and musical language of the mature Sibelius.
Published by Breitkopf & Hārtel, the benchmark edition is the Complete Edition of Jean Sibelius Works, series V Works for Piano, edited by Karl Kilpeläinen and published in 2008. Happily, Breitkopf have now released the Three Sonatinas as an individual folio, the subject of this review…
Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was undoubtedly a towering giant among the pianist-composers of the nineteenth century, but the significance of his late piano pieces has been the subject of much debate.
On the one hand these works are considered heralds of the elderly Liszt’s waning inspiration; on the other, they are often praised as visionary pieces, stark in their radical simplicity, bold in their chromaticism and opaque relationship to the highly evolved tonal system of their time.
Dusting off some of these most remarkable compositions, a new edition by Michael Kube has recently been published by Bärenreiter, which deserves investigation by players, teachers and academics alike…
Back in 2019 I published this review of Joachim Raff’s Piano Sonatas Op.14 and Op.168, newly edited by Ulrich Mahlert and published by Breitkopf & Hārtel, concluding:
“Had history told a different story, these three Sonatas could comfortably and confidently sit astride the peak of the Romantic piano repertoire; they more than deserve rediscovery, and I can recommend an exploration of these great works with genuine enthusiasm… I hope that the publisher’s stated aims are fulfilled: that this new edition helps to overcome the cycle of ignorance of Raff’s music. Ulrich Mahlert and Edition Breitkopf are to be highly commended for so enterprising, important and rewarding a publication.”
The team are now back with Mahlert’s new edition of another major find in the Raff catalogue, his Frühlingsboten (Heralds of Spring) Op.55, a cycle of 12 piano pieces which are simply brilliant, and again surely deserve a far more prominent place in the modern pianist’s repertoire…
Reviewing the new Denis Herlin edition of the Second Livre of Pièces de Clavecin by François Couperin ‘le grand’ (1668-1733) when it was published by Bärenreiter back in 2019, I concluded:
Occasionally I receive for review a volume that is, quite simply, above any reproach. This is one such edition. For any harpsichord player, this must surely be an essential and immediate purchase; for pianists keen to explore this too-little-known keyboard repertoire, this new edition must also be the one to seek out and highly prize.
Hot on the heels of Karen Marshall’s lovingly curated HerStory from Faber Music, which I recently reviewed here, Schott Music bring us three brilliantly compiled and vividly presented collections of music by neglected female composers past and present.
Melanie Spanswick’s Women Composers: A Graded Anthology is equally as groundbreaking, and being a larger series these books offer space to a wider and more diverse range of repertoire, particularly in their inclusion of playful jazz and 20th century piano works.
It is interesting to note that of the 30 works in Marshall’s book and the 52 more here, not only are there no actual duplicates, but few of the composers themselves appear twice, an extraordinary confirmation (were it needed) that the pool of neglected music by female composers is a deep one indeed.