Joachim Raff’s Piano Sonatas

Sheet Music Review

At the peak of his success in the 1870’s, Joachim Raff (1822-1882) was one of the most celebrated composers in the world, his eleven symphonies popular in concert halls across Europe and beyond, his marvellous body of solo and four-hand piano music a staple of the repertoire.

And yet, but the time of his death a few years later, his star was already in decline, his fall from fashion remarkably rapid. His music languished largely unperformed through the twentieth century, and is only now being properly reappraised, enjoying something of a revival.

Of Raff’s 216 works with opus numbers, 117 are works for piano solo, 54 for four-handed piano, and 23 piano arrangements of works by other composers. Concert pianist Tra Nguyen has led the charge to rediscover some of this extraordinary music, her stunning recordings revealing the quality of Raff’s writing and once again elevating him to a position alongside Brahms and his contemporaries.

Nguyen’s recordings for Naxos’s Grand Piano label are available to stream via the major platforms, and can be bought as a budget 6CD set from Amazon UK here. They are well worth exploring!

Introducing his new scholarly urtext edition of Raff’s three Piano Sonatas, recently published by Edition Breitkopf, Ulrich Mahlert suggests:

“It was precisely the enormous scope of Raff’s creativity that was one of the reasons why his works were not paid so much attention, because a differentiated engagement with so many compositions is time-consuming. The disregard of abundance went along with generalised, stereotypically repeated negative judgments, obscuring the view or even preventing dealing with Raff’s music at all. Thus, an unfortunate cycle of ignorance emerged which we hope that the present edition can help overcome.”

With that goal in mind, let’s consider Mahlert’s new edition of the Piano Sonatas.

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Play it Again: Piano

Sheet Music Review

Melanie Spanswick’s Play it Again: Piano series launched with two books published by Schott Music back in 2017. At the time, I heaped praise on those books, and I have subsequently used them with adult “returners” who have also loved them.

Now, with a third book joining the series, it’s time for another look. This new review covers all three books in the series, so let’s dig in…

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Henle’s revised Chopin Scherzi

Sheet Music Review

Ask a group of pianists which edition of Chopin’s piano works is the best, and you will probably get little consensus.

Some cling to our old copies of the much-revered Paderewski Editions which have been widely used since their appearance in the mid-twentieth century, while of the more recent urtext editions, the Jan Ekier Polish National Edition comes highly recommended.

Alongside these, the ever-reliable Henle Urtext editions have been popular for many years, and enthusiasts will be pleased to hear that they have just added a new revised edition of the 4 Scherzi, edited by Norbert Müllemann and with fingerings by Hans-Martin Theopold.

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Johanna Doderer: “Everything Flows”

Sheet Music Review

“Alles fließt” – “Everything Flows” – is a virtuoso piano piece which was commissioned for the International Beethoven Piano Competition 2017, and first performed during its opening by Christoph Traxler.

When reviewing new music, it always helps to have a recording; and if it happens to be accompanied by an arty film of a man wearing just his underpants having an existential meltdown in a remote forest (see below) … well, so be it.

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you more about this rather wonderful new concert work, just published by Doblinger…

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Couperin: Pièces de clavecin

Sheet Music Review

François Couperin ‘le grand (1668-1733) was undoubtedly one of the great keyboard composers. His seminal influence is not only evident in the music of later French composers from Rameau to Ravel, but as an antecedent finds echoes in Chopin’s piano miniatures and even perhaps (by way of Creole migrants) the rhythms of New Orleans Jazz.

And yet his music remains too little known, and too rarely performed.

Now we have an even better chance to explore his glorious solo keyboard output, thanks to Bärenreiter’s recent publication of a stunning new edition of the Second Livre (1717) of Couperin’s Pièces de clavecin.

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LCM Diplomas: In Concert 2

Sheet Music Review

London College of Music’s suite of LCM Diplomas have just been revised for 2019, with certification beginning this Spring, and with a crossover during which candidates can continue to use the 2011 syllabus until the end of 2019.

Alongside the Diploma syllabus revision, a new anthology of solo piano repertoire has been published, called In Concert 2. This book is the sequel to last year’s In Concert, which I enthusiastically reviewed here.

In this review I will first consider the syllabus changes, link to the full syllabus for those interested, and then offer a more detailed review of In Concert 2.

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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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