Weber: The Piano Sonatas

Sheet Music Review

Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) was one of the significant pioneers of German Romanticism in music, chiefly remembered for his operas Der Freischütz, Oberon and the popular Invitation to the Dance.

Weber was also a brilliant pianist who composed four Sonatas, several shorter solo pieces, two Concertos, the Konzertstück in F minor for piano and orchestra, and considerably influencing successors such as Mendelssohn and Liszt.

Though not as universally known as those of his contemporaries Beethoven and Schubert, Weber’s four Sonatas have found a continuing place in the repertoire, and have been championed by leading concert artists such as Artur Schnabel, Claudio Arrau, Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels, Leon Fleischer, Hamish Milne and Paul Lewis.

They have been less-well served in print however, an oversight which Schott Music hope to rectify with the publication of their new, affordable single-volume edition.

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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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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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Discovering the Piano Music of Nikolai Kapustin

Sheet Music Review

Without doubt one of the more interesting, indeed extraordinary, composers of our times, Nikolai Kapustin was born in the town of Gorlovka in eastern Ukraine in 1937.

At the age of 14 he relocated to Moscow, studying piano at the Conservatoire, and announcing his composing career in 1957 with the Concertino for piano and orchestra Op.1. During this time he also had his own quintet and was a member of Yuri Saulsky’s Big Band; his enthusiasm for jazz continued after graduation when he joined the Oleg Lundstem Big Band.

Focussing purely on composing from the 1980s, Kapustin uses jazz idioms within the context of formal classical structures, writing orchestral, chamber and piano solo works for the concert hall.

Kapustin’s piano writing is for the most part rhythmically complex and highly virtuosic, making huge technical and musical demands on the performer.

Although his jazz-infused classical music is gaining an ever-larger audience of enthusiastic connoisseurs, few of us it seems have found a suitable entry point for learning and performing his works, in spite of the fact that his publishers Schott Music have many of his solo piano works available in print.

Schott’s two latest additions to the Kapustin catalogue may provide impetus, however: the Sonata No.6 Op.62 (1991) and Sonatina Op.100 are among his more approachable works, and should be accessible to players upwards from UK Grade 8 to Diploma level.

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