Discovering new repertoire, personalities and sound worlds has long been a particular goal when selecting the Pianodao Recording of the Month, and for March 2022, I am excited to be writing about a new album that ticks all three boxes.
African Pianism is a revelatory collection of music by seven African composers, none of whom I was previously familiar with. Released to coincide with Black History Month in the United States, the album marks the solo debut of Nigerian-Romanian pianist Rebeca Omordia on the SOMM label.
There’s certainly nothing predictable or conservative about this release, so let’s take the disc for a spin…
Before the last rays of summer settle into the colours of autumn, let me tell you about this wonderful book, my summer holiday read, but equally suitable for the cozy evenings ahead, or for that matter as a Christmas gift.
Indeed, whether you find yourself wanting inspiration for fresh beginnings, a reboot in your piano journey, or simply a brilliant read, Susan Tomes’ The Piano: A History in 100 Pieces is poised to perfectly hit the spot and deliver the tonic you are looking for.
It’s a book which very much delivers on the promise of its title, giving a chronological survey of the storied history of the instrument and, more particularly, the development of a glorious repertoire that is surely one of the pinnacles of human achievement.
In early 1819, the well-known composer and music publisher Anton Diabelli (1781-1858), sent a 32-bar waltz to the most reputable composers of the Austrian Empire, together with an invitation to submit their variations for publication as a collaborative collection.
Among those who responded to the call were Czerny, Hummel, Moscheles, Schubert, and the eleven-year-old Franz Liszt, and from their contributions Diabelli was able to assemble a set of 50 Variations on his theme.
We only know for sure of one composer who explicitly declined Diabelli’s invitation to collaborate: Beethoven. It remains unclear why he did not want to participate directly, but he nevertheless composed his own monumental set of 33 Variations, not directly for Diabelli but exploring alternative avenues of publication.
Beethoven’s 33 Variations on a Waltz Op.120 quickly established itself not only as one of his most important keyboard works, but one of the pinnacle summits of the entire classical piano repertoire, entirely overshadowing the rest of the project.
Delivered for the recent Beethoven 250 anniversary year, Mario Aschauer’s landmark new scholarly performing edition of the Beethoven Diabelli Variations is an essential score for serious students of the work, published by Bärenreiter, BA 9657.
Perhaps even more interestingly however, Bärenreiter have also brought us their edition BA 9656, which includes Beethoven’s masterpiece together with Aschauer’s new edition of the 50 Variations on a Waltz composed by his contemporaries in response to Diabelli’s call.
Let’s take a closer look at this ambitious and exciting publication…
The Six Partitas BWV 825-30 of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) have long been regarded as one of the most important milestones of the Baroque keyboard repertoire, and exist in many editions.
The latest, edited by Ullrich Scheideler, with fingering added by concert pianist William Youn, and published by Henle (HN 518), replaces the same publisher’s 1979 Rudolf Steglich/Hans-Martin Theopold edition (HN 28), and aims to deliver the latest scholarship in a practical performing edition…
Since the late 1960’s, when he become the doyen of the experimental music scene, Howard Skempton has carved a unique place for himself in British musical life.
Skempton’s influences include Eric Satie, Morton Feldman, John Cage and La Monte Young. His own music resists lazy categorisation, but is characterised by pared-back textures, focused economy of expression, clarity of melodic line, and the avoidance of dissonance even when most determinedly resisting the pull of tonality.
These qualities remain an integral hallmark of the latest entry in his significant solo piano catalogue, the 24 Preludes and Fugues recently published by OUP.
I first heard the 33-year-old Italian pianist Vanessa Benelli Mosell a few years back when she released an impressive disc of Debussy on the Decca label. Exploring her catalogue I soon found myself considering her one of the most artistically adventurous and astute artists of her generation.
Her latest disc, Casta Diva, more than confirms that view, and is quite simply one of the most dazzling piano recordings I’ve heard in a while.
So it’s a very easy choice for the first Recording of the Month in 2021…
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…
At the start of this series I gave an account of my surprise 2020 visit to Poland, and in subsequent articles I have discussed some of the best piano music I discovered on my trip, together with the tutorial films that I and a team of international colleagues created to showcase this music to the piano teaching community worldwide.
As the series draws to a close, I would like to share a couple more books that were featured in the PWM promotion, as well as a series of three special collections which actually bear the project name, Music from Chopin’s Land.
And then the punchline! I will end this final post in the series with a short reflection on the lasting lessons I have learnt about piano pedagogy following on from my visit to Chopin’s land…
So, firstly, a few extra reviews and videos for your interest and enjoyment…
When Austrian composer Kurt Schwertsik’s Albumblätter: collected piano works landed on my desk in 2018, I was intrigued, but like too many books it ended up buried in my review backlog.
Fast forward to Summer 2020, and the newly released recording of this music by pianist Aya Klebahn caught my attention on Apple Music. Second time lucky, I was quickly hooked…
Publishers Boosey & Hawkes tell us:
“Kurt Schwertsik’s music is characterised by ever-changing moods and is idiosyncratic with a refreshing lightness of touch. Though a pupil of Stockhausen, the composer rejected serialism in favour of new forms of tonality. His search for an ‘alternative’ modern culture draws inspiration from Satie and the Dada movement.”
Intrigued? A little belatedly, here is the Pianodao review…
Rami Bar-Niv is known and beloved worldwide as one of Israel’s most acclaimed and sought-after pianists.
Performing worldwide as a soloist with orchestra, recitalist and chamber musician, Bar-Niv has become an ambassador of goodwill for Israel. He has made several well received recordings for CBS, many of his compositions have been published and recorded, and he is widely in demand as a teacher.
Enrique Granados (1867-1916) was one of the great composers to expand the piano repertoire in the twilight years of the Romantic era, and must be counted among Spain’s most marvellous writers for the instrument; so it is a shame that so much of his output remains too little-known and rarely performed.
Less than a handful of easy miniatures have been picked up by exam boards and anthologies, the same few repeatedly so, revealing not only a lack of imagination but too limited a knowledge of Granados’s music, which in fact includes a significant body of music suitable for intermediate and early advanced players.
Meanwhile, the mighty cycle Goyescas belongs aside his compatriot Albéniz’s Iberia suites, but alas, only a couple of movements appear on concert programmes with any frequency. That much of Granados’s music has been difficult to find in good, widely available editions doesn’t help.
At the centre of Granados’s output, the twelve Danzas españolas are a fabulous collection suitable for the advanced player (around UK Grades 6-8). And while (unlike Albéniz) much of Granados’s solo piano music is closer in tone to Schumann than to Spanish flamenco, these pieces are replete with the regional flair and the sunny countenance that lends colour and a hint of exoticism to the best Spanish music. This is Granados at his most rustic.
Those wanting to play the Danzas Españolas relied on old editions by IMP and Dover. Happily, these marvellous pieces can now be explored in a superb new urtext from Henle Verlag, the subject of this review…
In addition to Mike Cornick’s new solo piano collection Ragtime Blues and more (which I recently reviewed here), Universal Edition have just published his latest collection for one piano, four hands: Elgar Favourites arranged for Piano Duet.
Once again, it’s a collection that’s well worth a look, so let’s take one…
Ut Orpheus Edizioni (distributed by Universal Edition) have recently published a new urtext edition of Dussek’s catchily-titled The Sufferings of the Queen of France (for piano of harpsichord), subtitled in the original:
“A Musical Composition, Expressing the feelings of the unfortunate Marie Antoinette, During her Imprisonment, Trial, etc. The Music, adapted for the Piano-Forte or Harpsichord Composed by J.L. Dussek.”
Undertaking a complete recording of the 32 published Piano Sonatas of Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) remains one of the monumental challenges for any concert pianist, and with the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth next year it’s likely that the many accounts on disc will come under greater comparative scrutiny than ever.
Enter Igor Levit, who has previously impressed critics and audiences around the world both in recital and on disc. A Sony Classics artist, Levit is flying the flag for one of the world’s largest labels with his new 9CD set of the Sonata cycle, released this month.
These are interpretations which inevitably face comparison with the legendary recordings by such luminaries as Artur Schnabel, Wilhelm Kempff and Friedrich Gulda, beloved cycles by Stephen Kovacevich, Alfred Brendel and Claudio Arrau, and the more recent accounts by Paul Lewis, András Schiff, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and (revelatory on fortepiano) Ronald Brautigam.
With such high stakes, let’s find out how Levit’s cycle fares …
Wiener Urtext Edition have, in recent years, made a particular effort to renew their editions of Schubert’s smaller-scale piano works, the two sets of Impromptus, Op.90 and Op.142, and the Moments musicaux op.94, a new edition of which has just appeared on the market.
Is this new version the definitive edition? Let’s see…
I should preface this review by saying that, disappointingly, in the last couple of years I have too rarely found time to start reading a good novel, and even less frequently succeeded in finishing one.
The Waco Variations, written by the American pianist and writer Rhonda Rizzo, kept me up late into the night, and demanded to be finished. Perhaps no further recommendation is needed, but you probably want to know more about what makes this such a great read, so…
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.
Ludovico Einaudi’s legion of fans worldwide are no doubt already enjoying his latest release; Seven Days Walking: Day One was released in mid-March, and is to be followed by six further albums, each offering fresh variants on the first, culminating in a boxed set later in the year.
Hot on its heels comes the sheet music publication of the album, brought to us by publishers Chester Music and distributed by Hal Leonard.
Martin Roscoe has pursued a long-held ambition to record a complete series of the solo piano works of the great Hungarian composer, teacher and polymath Ernő Dohnányi (1877-1960), and that ambition reaches its fulfilment with the fourth and final release in Roscoe’s recorded Dohnányi cycle for Hyperion Records, released this month and an easy choice for Pianodao’s Recording of the Month.
I’ve been a fan of Dohnányi’s music for several years, not least knowing that my own teacher Joseph Weingarten had been one of his students in Budapest Academy. I’ve been collecting Roscoe’s recordings since the series started, and have been eagerly awaiting this final issue.
Before reviewing the CD itself, here’s a short introduction to the composer and music…
That’s the first word that came to me as I unpacked the advance review copy of Lang Lang’s Piano Book when it arrived back in February, and it is rightly the first word of this review.
Because Lang Lang’s Piano Book is without question one of the most lush sheet music publications I have ever seen. So, right away a huge round of applause goes to Faber Music for a job magnificently done.
But beyond the opulent presentation, what actually is Lang Lang’s Piano Book? Let’s take a look…
Schott Music have recently been developing a new series of publications called the Schott Student Edition, presenting core pedagogic repertoire in an attractive, affordable and contemporary format for today’s learners.
With several editions already in the pipeline for string and wind players, pianists can now also start their collection, thanks to the arrival of an excellent new edition of favourite pieces by Daniel Gottlob Türk, edited by Erich Doflein and with new Teaching Notes written by Samantha Ward.
Supporting Educators • Promoting Learning Written by ANDREW EALES
Great news: the latest figures from the BPI reveal that sales and streaming of recorded classical music grew by 10.2% in 2018 compared to the 2017 figures.
Taking a closer look, classical CD sales grew by 6.9%, while most other genres saw a decline. Meanwhile, online streaming of classical music grew by a whopping 42%, compared to the 33% rise in the overall market. These figures are presented and discussed in this BBC News article.
Some will no doubt quibble over the specific artists and composers featured in the statistics, and the categories formulated by salespeople and marketeers rarely tell the whole story.
But those of us who believe in promoting classical music won’t be surprised by its upsurge and enduring popularity. We know that once people encounter good music, it can wield its transformative power.
It is odd, then, that some piano teacher would seem to largely avoid classical music unless and until it is specifically requested by a student or required for an exam. Why is this?
“Since my youth I have been fascinated by sonata form and, over a period of some forty years, all the programmes I have performed have been centred on works in that form. Therefore this book is a labour of love as much as, hopefully, a useful guide to some of the most marvellous music ever conceived.”
So writes Michael Davidson of his superb book The Classical Piano Sonata, which has since its publication in 2004 become something of a classic itself, and an indispensable guide for every serious pianist and music-lover.
Let’s take a closer look at the book, and evaluate what it is which makes it such an essential addition to the pianist’s library…
Yuja Wang’s meteoric rise to global stardom has been one of the most extraordinary stories of the piano world over the last decade.
When her debut CD for Deutsche Grammophon was released back in 2009 she was barely in her 20’s and many (me included) raised their eyebrows at her choice of programme, opening with Chopin’s monumental B flat minor Sonata and squeezing in performances of Scriabin’s 2nd Sonata and two Ligeti Etudes before finishing with Liszt’s Sonata in B minor. As it turned out, she performed all these with aplomb, her Liszt in particular being among the very best readings recently committed to disc.
Since then, the Chinese virtuoso has recorded concerti by Rachmaninov, Prokofiev (perhaps the most emotionally gripping performance I’ve yet heard of his grief-ridden 2nd Concerto), Ravel and Mendelssohn. Her solo discs Transformation and Fantasia have delighted fans, and she has lit up the world’s greatest concert halls with her technically explosive and musically rapt playing.
Now she’s back with a new recording. The Berlin Recital was recorded live at the Berlin Philharmonie Kammermusiksaal in June 2018, and features a bedazzling programme of music by Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Ligeti and Prokofiev.