My First Tchaikovsky

Wilhelm Ohmen’s My First Composers collections from Schott Music are proving to be a series which keeps on giving…

It only seems yesterday that I reviewed My First Haydn, having previously taken a look at My First Schumann and My First Beethoven. The series also includes collections of music by J.S. Bach, Mozart and Chopin.

The latest collection to join the series is My First Tchaikovsky

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Ravel: Jeux d’eau

Sheet Music Review

“…the wellspring of all the pianistic innovations which have been thought to be found in my work.”

So said composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) of his breakthrough composition Jeux d’Eau, completed on November 11th, 1901 and dedicated to his teacher Gabriel Fauré.

As such, the work is surely a milestone not only in Ravel’s compositional development, but also in that of the classical piano repertoire.

In this post I will consider the genesis and significance of Jeux d’Eau before taking a look at Nicolas Southon’s brand new urtext edition of the piece, with fingering and notes on the interpretation by concert pianist Alexandre Tharaud, recently published by Bärenreiter.

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Iyad Sughayer in Conversation

Iyad Sughayer has been quietly establishing a reputation as one of our brightest upcoming pianists, appearing as soloist with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, European Union Chamber Orchestra and the Cairo and Amman Symphony Orchestras, as well as giving solo performances in such prestigious venues as London’s Wigmore Hall and King’s Place, Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall and the Steinway-Haus in Hamburg.

Now he has released his debut recording on the BIS label. A brilliantly conceived and executed disc of solo piano works by Aram Khachaturian (1903-78), the recording is certainly a stunning showcase for the brilliant talents of this young player, who delivers performances of the utmost musical conviction and power.

Sughayer wrote a short piece touching on the nature of musical engagement for Pianodao a couple of years ago, and I was delighted to more recently catch up with him at the Chetham’s Summer School for Pianists, since which I have now had a chance to interview him in more depth for the site…

Continue reading Iyad Sughayer in Conversation

My First Haydn

Sheet Music Review

Few would argue with the statement that Haydn composed some of the most important and brilliant music in the Western classical canon. And the older I get, the more I am finding that his compositions (in a similar way to Bach’s) have the power to restore balance when I feel off-key, and enrich my days.

But Haydn’s music isn’t just for miserable old fogeys; I consistently find that even the youngest of my students quickly learn to enjoy his music more than most, its appealing melodies and jaunty, humorous spirit never far away.

Of course, children (and older beginners) can only make this discovery if teachers make a point of introducing Haydn’s oeuvre to their students. And Schott Music’s latest publications My First Haydn may be just the ticket for ensuring this happens.

The book joins Schott’s imaginative “My First…” series of music books, each featuring a major keyboard composer. I have previously reviewed My First Schumann and My First Beethoven and My First Haydn follows the same format to a tee, so do check those earlier reviews.

But for now let’s dig into this latest in the series…

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Schubert’s “Moments musicaux”

Sheet Music Review

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…

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Exploring the Piano Music of Nikolai Kapustin

Kapustin’s extensive catalogue of solo piano music is increasingly recognised as one of the significant landmarks of the contemporary recital repertoire.

In an earlier review, Discovering the Piano Music of Nikolai Kapustin, I had a look at two contrasting works, the fiendishly difficult Sonata No.6 Op.62 (1991), and the more accessible (and now highly popular) Sonatina Op.100 (2000), new editions of which Schott Music had recently released.

Since then, Schott have been continuing to refresh the Kapustin catalogue (theirs since 2013) with new editions of his solo works appearing at regular intervals.

In this follow-up I will be giving a quick round-up of all the latest arrivals. Of these it must be noted that even the least assuming pieces here are rightly classified as “virtuoso”, being at least Diploma level in difficulty.

In all cases, these works are fully scored-out compositions in the classical vein, but heavily imbued with the language, techniques and aesthetics of contemporary jazz, leaning on influences that encompass modern jazz piano icons from Thelonious Monk to McCoy Tyner and beyond.

Continue reading Exploring the Piano Music of Nikolai Kapustin

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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Martin James Bartlett: Love and Death

Recording of the Month

Since winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2014, Martin James Bartlett has become a welcome and friendly presence in concert halls as in the media, while also pursuing his further studies as a Foundation Scholar at London’s Royal College of Music.

Having recently signed to major label Warner Classics, Martin’s debut album was released at the start of May.

Entitled “Love and Death”, the recording must I believe be regarded as marking a very significant arrival in the classical music world, Bartlett casting his spell with an imaginative programme of music by J.S. Bach, Franz Liszt, Enrique Granados and Sergei Prokofiev…

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Fazil Say Plays Say

Recording of the Month

Fazil Say has established himself as one of the leading pianists and composers of his generation, but his multifaceted talent has sometimes left critics as perplexed as audiences are thrilled. He’s a hard man to categorise!

Say is equally at home performing and recoding the complete Sonatas of Mozart (released by Warner Classics in 2016 and available here) as he is when playing his own highly distinctive and imaginative compositions.

It is the latter which in my view confirm Say’s place in the upper echelons of the classical tradition, however. I love pieces such as the scintillating 1001 Nights in the Harem (a four-movement Violin Concerto), and the Hezarfen Concerto for Ney and Orchestra.

These have recently been joined on the top shelf by the stunning Troy Sonata, a near-40-minute solo piano work in ten movements, included as the centrepiece of his latest release, Fazil Say plays Say.

Say’s music has a vivid cinematic approach to storytelling, and draws on a smorgasbord of influences, from late Romanticism through to experimental modernism, while incorporating the colours of modern jazz: all unmistakably and decisively shot through with the spirit and culture of his native Turkey.

It makes for a unique and intoxicating blend with which, like his greatest composing forebears, Say’s personal voice emerges from an accomplished fusion of musical reference points.

Fazil Say Plays Say brings together a thrilling selection of Say’s most recent (and I believe finest) solo piano works. It’s an easy choice for Recording of the Month

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Lang Lang’s Piano Book

Sheet Music Review

SUMPTUOUS!

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…

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Martin Roscoe’s Dohnányi Odyssey

photo: Eric Richmond

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 …

Continue reading Martin Roscoe’s Dohnányi Odyssey

Easy Piano Series: Classical

Sheet Music Review

Last year, I praised the first two books in Faber Music’s glossy new set, the Easy Piano Series – covering Shows and Film music.

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.

Let’s explore the collection …

Continue reading Easy Piano Series: Classical

William Youn: Laughter and Tears…

Artist photography: Irène Zandel

Recording of the Month

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.

Continue reading William Youn: Laughter and Tears…

Do you believe in classical music?

Wonderful 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.

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 so many piano teaching colleagues seem to largely avoid classical music unless and until it is specifically requested by a student or required for an exam. Why is this?

Continue reading Do you believe in classical music?

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

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…

Continue reading Yuja Wang: The Berlin Recital

Alice Sara Ott: Nightfall

Recording of the Month

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.”

Continue reading Alice Sara Ott: Nightfall

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 …

Continue reading Schubert’s “Fantasy Sonata” in G major

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!

Continue reading Easy Concert Pieces: Book 3

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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