November/December 2018: Book Review
The Pianist's Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Concertos: An Invaluable Resource of Keyboard Concertos from Baroque through Contemporary Periods for Teachers, Students, and Performers, by Karen Beres and Christopher Hahn.
Review by Kate Boyd. Susan Geffen, Editor
The Pianist's Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Concertos, a new guide to intermediate level piano concertos, consists of more than 270 selections. The authors, Karen Beres and Christopher Hahn, level each concerto using the same leveling criteria created by Jane Magrath in The Pianist's Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature.
In addition, the first of two appendices lists the composers by historical period; the second lists the concertos individually by level, from Level 1 through Level 10 and above. Although the book includes concertos at every level, Levels 7-9 are most strongly represented. For most pieces in this volume, Beres and Hahn provide information about the publisher and whether a two-piano reduction is available, along with a suggested tempo indication (either from the composer or the editors).
Beres and Hahn have unearthed many obscure pieces and have written a short descriptive paragraph for each one. For example, the inquisitive piano teacher can find the Serge Lancen Concertino (1949), described as a "well-crafted work in a dashing and vibrant style that displays the mid-20th century French penchant for chromaticism and extended harmonies within a diatonic framework"; the Concerto in G Major by eighteenth-century German composer Johann Michael Pfeiffer, "an excellent example of the pre-Classical piano concerto"; and the 1977 Piano Concertino, by Azer Guseinovich Rzayev, a living Azerbaijani composer, which contains "exotic harmonies with a Shostakovich influence."
Some entries include a short paragraph of background information summarizing the place of the selected piece in the composer's overall output, but this practice is not consistent. For example, the entry for Jean Emerson Pasquet, an American composer (1896-1977), merely lists a Concertino in G Major, whereas the previous entry, for Italian composer Giovanni Paisello (1740-1816), informs the reader that Paisello composed eighty works and that his compositions were strongly influenced by opera.
Despite the publication of this handy reference volume, a teacher who is considering assigning a lesser-known piece (like the aforementioned Lancen) will nonetheless find she needs to do a lot of legwork: there is no recording of the piece available on Naxos, YouTube, or Spotify, and, short of purchasing it from the publisher sight unseen, the only way to peruse the music is to order it via interlibrary loan. A teacher will have an easier time, however, finding the works by better-known composers listed in this volume. Kuhlau's Piano Concerto in C Major, Op. 7, for example, is readily available in both written and recorded forms.
In their introduction, the authors state that they use the following criteria to determine historical periods: Baroque, 1600-1750; Classical, 1750-1825; Romantic, 1825-1900; and Twentieth Century/Contemporary, 1900-present day. Given that we are approaching the ear 2020, it would seem appropriate to include some intermediate demarcation, perhaps 1900-1960 or 1970, and then 1970 to the present. This would help differentiate long-deceased post-Romantic composers from the living composers of today.
With its more than 270 entries ranging from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries, The Pianist's Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Concertos will provide many ideas to teachers who are looking for a concerto movement for their students. In addition, it will help them determine which pieces fit each student's current ability level. Overall, this is a valuable and overdue resource that contains much new information about one of the most important genres in piano literature. (Alfred, 144 pages. $19.99) —Kate Boyd