Schubert’s “Fantasy Sonata” in G major

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20th March 1989 is a date embedded in my memory, as it was on this evening that 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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The ‘Deliberately Forgotten’ Composer

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The name Vsevolod Petrovich Zaderatsky (1891-1953) may be a new one to most readers; 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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Rachmaninoff: Critical Urtext Edition

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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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Debussy: Images & Pour le piano

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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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Discovering the Piano Music of Nikolai Kapustin

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Without doubt one of the more interesting, indeed extraordinary, composers of our times, Nikolai Kapustin was born in the town of Gorlovka in eastern Ukraine in 1937.

At the age of 14 he relocated to Moscow, studying piano at the Conservatoire, and announcing his composing career in 1957 with the Concertino for piano and orchestra Op.1. During this time he also had his own quintet and was a member of Yuri Saulsky’s Big Band; his enthusiasm for jazz continued after graduation when he joined the Oleg Lundstem Big Band.

Focussing purely on composing from the 1980s, Kapustin uses jazz idioms within the context of formal classical structures, writing orchestral, chamber and piano solo works for the concert hall.

Kapustin’s piano writing is for the most part rhythmically complex and highly virtuosic, making huge technical and musical demands on the performer.

Although his jazz-infused classical music is gaining an ever-larger audience of enthusiastic connoisseurs, few of us it seems have found a suitable entry point for learning and performing his works, in spite of the fact that his publishers Schott Music have many of his solo piano works available in print.

Schott’s two latest additions to the Kapustin catalogue may provide impetus, however: the Sonata No.6 Op.62 (1991) and Sonatina Op.100 are among his more approachable works, and should be accessible to players upwards from UK Grade 8 to Diploma level.

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Which Mikrokosmos?

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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.

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Christopher Norton’s ‘Jazz Piano Sonata’

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Christopher Norton’s educational piano music – from the bestselling Microjazz series for beginner and elementary players through to his acclaimed series of Preludes Collections (the most recent of which I have reviewed here – Eastern Preludes and Pacific Preludes) his music has delighted millions of players and listeners of all ages around the world.

It’s great to be presented with a more substantial work from this ever-popular contemporary composer: the Jazz Piano Sonata follows the traditional three-movement form, and is a significant concert work for the advanced pianist.


Originally written for, and premiered by US pianist Jovanni-Rey de Pedro in 2013, the work has been performed in several countries already, and is now published by Christopher’s own company 80dayspublishing, courtesy of Boosey & Hawkes.

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LCM ‘In Concert’ anthology

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London College of Music Exams may be less well known to readers than the ABRSM and Trinity College London boards which I have written about previously, but that may be about to change

Certainly LCM offer a very wide range of different assessments for piano players. According to my colleague David Barton:

“I estimate that LCM offer nearly 20 different options for pianists at 15 different levels, right from the earliest stages of learning, through to the Fellowship of the London College of Music (FLCM). The range of options now available is fantastic; I feel enormously lucky to be teaching at a time when the needs of a diverse range of learners of all ages is finally being met by examination boards, led, in my view, by LCM. We live in exciting times, and it will be interesting to see what options continue to develop in the future.”

And it isn’t just in the area of examinations that LCM are looking to innovate and lead the way, but also in the area of publications…

When Publications Officer David Duncan told me that he hopes to significantly shake up their publications, I quietly thought to myself ”thank goodness, as their previous efforts haven’t been particularly user friendly, well edited, or attractively presented.

That said, nothing prepared me for the extent and speed with which LCM Publications would reinvent itself: their new collection of selected works from their Piano Diploma syllabus has taken my breath away.

Put simply ’In Concert is an extraordinary achievement, and in a completely different league from LCM’s previous published efforts. And whether or not you are interested in LCM’s Diploma exam, this is a highly desirable new collection for players looking for interesting and diverse repertoire at this level.

Let’s take a closer look…

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Jan Freidlin: Four Stories

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The ability to write an effective miniature for solo piano – one which is personal but idiomatic, original but accessible – remains one of the true challenges for any composer, and one that many “big names” in classical music have seemingly avoided.

Not so for composer Jan Freidlin, who succeeds not just once but four times in quick succession in his latest publication from Edition Dohr, Four Stories.

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