As a child I became enamoured with the music of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, who was without doubt one of the great piano composers of his generation. As an adolescent student I found huge pleasure in learning as many of his Lyric Pieces as I could (they are all between around Grades 4-8), including the deliciously evocative To Spring.
The unseasonably balmy weather in the past week has put me in mind of this lovely piece, which looks forward to the coming of Spring with infectious optimism.
There are several enjoyable and interesting performances of the piece on YouTube, including an ancient recording (barely audible) of the composer himself playing it at breakneck speed.
At the other end of the spectrum, Russian icon Sviatoslav Richter plays at less than half the composer’s tempo: a ponderous interpretation that suggests the maestro wasn’t expecting the ice to thaw anytime soon!
Here it is performed by the brilliant Alice Sara Ott, who we discover is also rather a dab hand at origami …
Sunday Sounds showcases great keyboard music featuring players past and present, from classic recordings to great new music discoveries.
Exclusive Interview with concert pianist Martin Roscoe
As Hyperion Records release the fourth and final disc in Martin Roscoe’s complete survey of the solo piano music of Ernő Dohnányi it was a delight to have the chance to ask Martin about his Dohnányi odyssey, which has taken so much of his time over recent years.
I was keen to know more about how this extraordinary project came about, and the impact it has made on pianist and audiences alike …
Now the series has grown to include Classical, and a fourth book snappily called Pop is scheduled to follow later in the year.
In my previous review I noted:
“There is always room on the music shelf for easy piano arrangements of well-known and popular songs – players of all ages naturally find it encouraging and enjoyable to tackle tunes that are familiar to them, their family and friends.”
The Classical book in the series follows a similar philosophy, offering 16 pieces with an emphasis on simplified arrangements of some of the best-loved melodies of all time, and with a few original versions of easy pieces thrown in for good measure.
William Youn has been establishing a growing international reputation as a “genuine poet” of the piano (as one critic eloquently put it). His recording of Mozart’s complete piano sonatas for Oehms Classics has received particular and extensive critical acclaim, and now he brings us his debut recital disc for major label Sony Classical.
Wonderful news: the latest figures from the BPI reveal that sales and streaming of recorded classical music grew by 10.2% in the last twelve months.
This compares to the much lower 5.7% growth in other genres. In fact, classical CD sales grew by 6.9%, while most other genres actually saw a decline in sales. And 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 we must admit that the categories formulated by salespeople and marketeers rarely tell the whole story.
But those of us who really believe in 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 teaching colleagues seem to avoid classical music, unless and until it is specifically requested by a student or otherwise required. 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.
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.”
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 …
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!