Brahms: Two Rhapsodies

Sheet Music Review

Brahms’ vivacious Two Rhapsodies Op.79 of 1879 are among his most frequently performed and popular concert works.

The Rhapsody in G minor Op.79 No.2 is also a mainstay of the ABRSM piano diploma syllabus, where its gorgeous sweeping melody line makes it a popular choice with players.

Inevitably there are several printed scores on the market; ABRSM naturally promote their own, while many performers have tended to opt for the Henle Urtext edition.

Now Brahms expert Christian Köhn is presenting these popular pieces in an up-to-date new edition that remains faithful to the sources and reflects scholars’ latest findings. And according to publishers Bärenreiter,

“In addition to the informative Preface the edition offers enlightening details regarding performance practice of Brahms’ day. With a reader-friendly engraving, comfortable page turns including a fold-out page and fingering where required, the edition meets all the needs of today’s performers.”

Let’s take a quick look…

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Rachmaninov: Second Sonata

Sheet Music Review

Rachmaninov’s Sonata No.2 in B flat minor Op.36 is one of those gargantuan masterpieces generally only attempted by those with a truly titanic technique.

But for anyone interested in playing, studying or getting to know the work, Dominik Rahmer’s brand new edition for Henle Verlag will be of profound interest.

As connoisseurs of the Sonata will probably know, there are two versions: the original 1913 version published in 1914, and the composer’s major revision published in 1931.

For this Henle publication, Rahmer has produced not one but two brand new urtext editions, printed one after the other for comparison.

Adding further enticement, fingering is provided by none other than the revered concert pianist Marc-André Hamelin. So let’s have a look…

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Piano Music by British & American Composers

Sheet Music Review

Lurking in my reviews backlog for some time, here’s a book which has continued to beckon, so let me finally highlight it as the epitome of a great idea brilliantly brought to life.

The so-called “core repertoire” for classical piano has long been predominantly drawn from the great composers of the Central European Tradition (Germany, Austria and Hungary), France and Russia. Meanwhile, composers from the UK and USA have somewhat struggled to gain comparable recognition beyond their own borders.

This bumper anthology from publishers Boosey & Hawkes collates piano works from an even and well-matched spread of composers from both sides of the Atlantic, all of whom lived and worked in the 20th century.

As such it offers a rather wonderful introduction to some great music, much of it too-little performed, but all hugely worthy of the pianist’s attention.

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Albéniz: Cantos de España

Sheet Music Review

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.

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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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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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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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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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Discovering the Piano Music of Nikolai Kapustin

Sheet Music Review

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?

Sheet Music Review

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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