The Classical Piano Sonata

Building a Library

“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…

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Yuja Wang: The Berlin Recital

Recording of the Month  December 2018

Artist photos © Peter Adamik

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.

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It’s an easy choice for Recording of the Month. Let’s investigate…

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Alice Sara Ott: Nightfall

Recording of the Month  September 2018

Of the many wonderful young pianists who have arrived on the international performing circuit in recent years, Alice Sara Ott impresses me as one of the more honest to her own artistic intentions, and authentic in her delivery.

Her several recordings for Deutsche Grammophon have consistently revealed Ott as an intelligent pianist, eschewing glitz for its own sake, ready and willing to plough her own musical furrow, staying true to her vision and – importantly – to the intentions and spirit of the composers whose music she identifies with.

Commenting on her latest release, Nightfall, the now-30-year-old German pianist writes:

“It’s a very personal album in which I recall many moments of light and brightness, but also moments of darkness and doubt. One month before I entered the recording studio – I was in the midst of the bleak world of Gaspard de la nuit – my father suffered a heart attack that he barely survived. Despite a fortunate outcome, these were terrifying hours and days in which I realised how close life and death are intertwined. But there can be no light without darkness, and no hope without fear. And sometimes the borders blur – as in Nightfall.”

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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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Easy Concert Pieces: Book 3

Sheet Music Review

Reviewing the first two books in this series last year, I concluded:

No need to beat around the bush: I really like this series!

Put simply, the two books so far both include a really appealing range of pieces in varied styles, beautifully presented and well-edited, and with a well recorded CD as a bonus. The first book contains 50 pieces, the second 48, and each has a recommended retail price of just £11.99, which represents excellent value for what’s included.

I would certainly want to use these books alongside some more contemporary repertoire, but overall I think they are likely to become standard collections used in my own teaching practice in the coming months. And I can’t wait to see Volume 3 when it comes out!

Since writing that, both books have indeed become resources that I use in my own teaching practice, particularly with older beginner/elementary players, and the students using them have been uniformly enthusiastic.

And now Book 3 is with us, completing the series. So let’s take a look!

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Piano Kaleidoscope

Sheet Music Review

In my recent review of Bärenreiter’s new edition of the Sonata in A major K331 by Mozart, I mentioned that they are a publisher who take pride in achieving the highest standards in all their publications. In their own words:

Bärenreiter Urtext is a seal of quality assigned only to scholarly-critical editions. It guarantees that the musical text represents the current state of research prepared in accordance with clearly defined editorial guidelines.
Bärenreiter Urtext: the last word in authentic text – the musicians’ choice.”

Piano Kaleidoscope is a new piano anthology, produced by Bärenreiter as an appetiser for their Urtext Editions, specially priced at the pocket-money price of just £4.00. And it is the best bargain I’ve ever reviewed here!

But who is it for, and does it achieve more than its basic aim of promoting the rest of their published range? Let’s find out…

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