12 minutes reading time (2419 words)

Spring 2020: New Music & Materials

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Dennis Alexander's Concertino for the Young is an attractive and engaging solo with piano accompaniment that closely mimics classical concerto style. This work, accessible for a later-elementary piano student, is written in typical concerto form with fast first and third movements and a slow second movement. Traditional concerto elements also include the key structure (first themes in C major, second themes in a closely related key), a classical-style use of scales and triads, and a trading off of the melody/accompaniment between the solo and the second piano.

A second glance at the concertino finds a number of contemporary and innovative elements. While the harmonies are certainly tonal, Alexander includes fresh sounds like flat-VI chords, added-note chords, and major-seventh chords. The rhythms are playful and quirky in a style reminiscent of Robert Vandall; also like Vandall, Alexander uses tetrachord scales to keep the florid passages accessible to the younger student. As always, Dennis Alexander writes a beautifully lyrical slow movement. As well as the solo right hand, the melody can be found in the solo left hand, providing yet another opportunity to listen carefully for balance.

Alexander does use pedal in his concertino; mostly it is in the teacher part, but the student is asked to pedal the very last section of movement three. The fingering provided by Alexander is excellent. He ably assists the young student in navigating fast notes and hand-position shifts. Some students might be mildly annoyed by the shared middle C in portions of movement three, but it's really the best fingering for those sections. A side note for teacher planning: the second piano part of the Concertino for the Young could be played well by an early-advanced high school student. Excellent fingering, articulative, dynamic, and pedal markings are provided as well for the second part.

Concertino for the Young is a wonderful addition to the piano ensemble repertoire; the tunes are lovely, the rhythms and harmonies are lively, and students can benefit both from learning a wonderful piece and from learning about the style and structure of piano concertos. (Alfred, $6.99) —Meg Gray

New to FJH's Composers in Focus series is the inspiring intermediate to late-intermediate piano solo collection, Ten Lyric Waltzes, by the prolific American composer Timothy Brown. Brown, who has written over three hundred pedagogical solos and collections for piano, writes in his composer's notes, "I hope that these pieces will give both teacher and performer many hours of enjoyment, and that they could be yet one more chapter in the long and constantly evolving history of the waltz." 

These well-crafted neoromantic waltzes explore a variety of emotions and moods, and all are a manageable three to four pages long. The collection is loaded with technical variety, from double thirds and sixths, scale passages, and plenty of two-note slurs in "Waltz in D Major," to voicing a melody of quarter and half notes within a series of broken chord sixteenths in "Waltz in G Minor." The more difficult waltzes have a simultaneous melody and countermelody in one hand, or an inner voice that is juggled between both hands. Most of the waltzes use the traditional waltz bass pattern, and each waltz features at least two engaging themes. Additionally, Brown is masterful in his use of harmonic variety and chromaticism. You might be slightly reminded of Chopin here, Brahms there, or a touch of Vienna, yet these waltzes sound fresh, vibrant, and oh so inviting. (FJH, $6.95)—Carmen Doubrava

Wynn-Anne Rossi has written numerous piano duets in a series called Jazzin' Americana for Two. This series not only celebrates American jazz, but is also "a journey through the jazz genre, honoring the history, diverse styles, and fabulous musicians who made this music great." Alfred Publishing has recently released books three and four of this collection. Book three consists of five duets written for intermediate pianists, and book four consists of five duets written for late-intermediate pianists. 

Jazz is the common thread through all these duets, and the works are a way of connecting students to American music, primarily in the first half of the twentieth century. Each title reflects a jazz-related element, and each work is inspired by or attributed to a jazz musician. And while these jazz musicians often improvised, Rossi notes: "Improvisation is not the focus of this series. Though improvisation is a key element in jazz, these books are designed as an introduction to the sounds of jazz." The range of jazz elements is of course going to be somewhat limited in an intermediate- level collection, but the primary jazz-inspired sounds used in the scope of these compositions include using blue notes in the melody (such as lowering the third in a major key), seventh chords, higher tertian chords, syncopations, and swing rhythms.

In the context of a pedagogical work, Rossi's musicianship shines. She avoids harmonizing melodies with too many fifths in the left hand, and instead harmonizes melodies with a variety of voicings and textures. She sometimes writes in eight-bar phrases, but also includes phrases of other lengths, which makes the music unpredictable and exciting. In addition, Rossi has composed genuine duets: they are not solo works rewritten as duets. She avoids the cliché of the primo playing a melody in octaves, and instead will let the primo play in tenths, or with its own accompaniment. She never settles with the primo as melody and secondo as accompaniment, but mixes the two so that there are times when the primo plays accompanying figures and the secondo enjoys the melody.

In the end, these duets make two significant contributions. First, for the teachers and students looking for a jazz-like style, these duets will satisfy that desire. And second, they add quality musical options to duet repertoire. They are enjoyable duet selections for students, teachers, and audiences alike. (Alfred, $7.99 each)—Jacob Fitzpatrick

I was so excited to receive Carolyn Miller's collection Rhapsody: Seven Great Recital Solos for the Advanced Pianist. I love getting new music probably more than anything else (well, except maybe shoes?), and I was pumped to delve into her collection. 

Rhapsody started with an invitation from the Hattiesburg Music Teachers League: they invited Miller to be their guest composer for a festival held in early 2019. The commissioned piece was the "Rhapsody in D Minor." After Miller composed this piece, she just kept on going, and before long, she had written six more pieces and it became a collection! Here is a sneak peak at what you can expect from this extraordinary collection.

Seven pieces are featured: "Knights of Spain," "Lazy Day," "Swirling Traffic," "Sunset," "Rhapsody in D Minor," "Stormy Seas," and "Rhapsody Mystique." Program notes about each piece are included in the beginning of this collection. All of these pieces are appealing by virtue of their sound, technical challenges, musical challenges, and all offer the advancing pianist the opportunity to flex their fingers to show off what they have.

"Knights of Spain" draws inspiration from Miller's previous collection, Piano Solos in Lyrical Style. Parallel chord patterns open the piece for the fanfare introduction of what is yet to come. The parallel positioning of the chords is easy for the pianist to grasp and makes the student sound awesome. In this piece, Miller provides a few programmatic comments, such as when the stand-alone lyrical melody arrives: "They pass by a little town, and hear a faraway guitar...", and later, "Crowds greet and cheer," and lastly, to conclude the piece, "They have arrived!" Miller later capitalizes on featuring arpeggios in both hands in root position, easier for the pianist than inversions, but regardless, they sound quite brilliant! As part of the coda she alternates G-diminished arpeggios with F-major arpeggios cascading down the piano. "Knights of Spain" offers the opportunity for the student to excel in brilliant chord and arpeggio playing and producing beautiful melodic lines.

I so enjoyed playing through "Swirling Traffic" (Too many times…people in my house kept asking if I knew anything else to practice!) The left hand features a very simple single-line pattern that supports right hand "swirling" sixteenth-note passagework. Miller's program notes suggest for the student to imagine what morning traffic might be like, especially in a big city. The B section offers chord patterns in the right hand–a brief respite from the busy swirling patterns! The student will enjoy the ending, which features large bravura chords with a "ta-da" stinger at the end!

The "Rhapsody in D Minor" (the original commissioned piece) opens with dramatic large chords and octaves centering around the tonic and dominant. Following the brilliant introduction is a section featuring sixteenth-note passagework in the left hand supporting a single-line melody in the right hand. Miller artfully weaves the left-hand passagework into the right hand, which eventually dissolves and leads into a lovely D-major section. The contrasting major section features a beautiful melody cast in the right hand. The A section returns to provide the pianist with cascading octaves alternating between the hands, bringing the piece to a dramatic close with the material found in the introduction. Bravura at its best! Every student will enjoy playing this piece that is so full of drama and flair for the pianist.

"Rhapsody Mystique" concludes this collection and opens with a mysterious chord, giving a nod to the "mystique" nature of the piece. Like the previous rhapsody, this piece is also sectional, and after the introductory chords, a beautiful lyrical melody makes its entrance. Scalar patterns are featured throughout this piece and serve as an embellishment to the melody. (Teachers can have the say-so on why it is important to learn and practice scales!) I love the C- augmented chords, which serve as a half cadence before launching back into the dramatic scalar passagework. Following this is yet another section, now in A minor, and large chords bring the piece to a dramatic close. Students will be challenged by the chords and passagework, yet they will love this piece for its brilliance, and for how good it makes them sound!

Miller's collection is eclectic, offering a wide variety of different styles, sounds, moods, and technical and musical challenges for the student. She is creative in her use of harmony (really makes the ears perk up), melody, and passagework. Furthermore, the pieces all sound exciting and fun to play. (I am still playing "Swirling Traffic" too much!) The pieces are so inviting, and the student will sound terrific playing them. I would consider this a must-have on my teaching shelf and I hope that you will too! (Willis Music, $8.99)—Adrienne E. Wiley

(S5-6) QUICK LOOKS AT JAZZ-INFLUENCED ADVANCED WORKS by Ann DuHamel 

Advanced pianists who seek works containing a fusion of jazz elements and classical structures will enjoy a newly released edition of Gershwin, and the piano compositions of Nikolai Kapustin.

The editors for the newly engraved 2019 edition of George Gershwin's Three Preludes for Piano consulted eight sources during preparation, including the manuscript at the Library of Congress. The copy is clear and easy to read, and four pages of notes include how Gershwin himself played in recordings. For those who know the Preludes, some fingering suggestions may be less intuitive. (Hal Leonard, $5.99)

Fans of Nikolai Kapustin's jazz-inspired music will enjoy the recent Piano Works, a compilation from Schott containing seven pieces composed between 1977–1987. The volume includes some of his more popular works, such as the Toccatina, Op. 36, and the Variations, Op. 41, in addition to less frequently performed works. The preface provides short, interesting notes on each work: the reader learns about Kapustin performance practice from the composer's own playing for Sunrise (Daybreak), Op. 26, and about his history playing with Oleg Lundstrem's orchestra in the commentary on Suite in the Old Style, Op. 28. An arrangement of a work composed several years earlier for a larger ensemble, Big Band Sounds, Op. 46, captures a big-band texture with swung block chords. Plentiful fingerings assist in the hard-driving Motive Force, Op. 45, as well as the introspective but technically challenging Contemplation, Op. 47. The notes in the preface emphasize form, assisting classically trained pianists in gaining a better understanding of Kapustin's jazz style, perhaps to the exclusion of other useful information–for instance, there is no mention that the theme of the Op. 41 Variations is based on a bassoon motive from The Rite of Spring. The entire collection is advanced, and in addition to the technical challenges, requires a fairly large hand span. (Schott, $28.99)

An engaging piece by Kapustin not included in the Piano Works edition is Humoresque, Op. 75. According to Schott's website [en.schott-music.com/new-piece-Nikolai-Kapustin], this piece is "one of the most difficult pieces by Kapustin" and displays the influence of jazz pianist McCoy Tyner. It features the characteristically chromatic writing of Kapustin, as well as the alternation of triplets and eighths in jazz-inspired rhythms in a large-scale ABA, standard jazz form. Though maybe not as enduringly melodic or charming as his more well-known Op. 40 Concert Etudes, the advanced piece has an effective ending. (Schott, $16.99) 


THIS ISSUE'S CONTRIBUTORS: 

SUZANNE SCHONS is Music Editor at the Piano Magazine. She teaches music courses at the University of St. Thomas and piano lessons at K&S Conservatory of Music in Minnesota. 

CARMEN DOUBRAVA is on the fine arts faculty at The Hockaday School in Dallas, where she teaches piano and accompanies several choirs, orchestras, and various school concerts. She is also the choir accompanist at Horizon Unitarian Universalist Church in Carrollton. 

ANN DUHAMEL serves as Head of Keyboard Studies at the University of Minnesota Morris. This year she has performed and given masterclasses in Asia, Europe, and across the United States Ann earned a DMA from the University of Iowa, and recently began her term as the President of the Minnesota Music Teachers Association. 

JACOB FITZPATRICK teaches piano and theory at his home in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is currently writing his PhD dissertation on musical movement and Stravinsky. 

MEG GRAY is on the faculty at Wichita State University where she teaches piano pedagogy and coordinates the undergraduate class piano program. She also maintains a pre-college studio, and is an active adjudicator and presenter. 

ADRIENNE E. WILEY is Professor of Piano, Pedagogy, and Class Piano at Central Michigan University. She loves teaching both college- and precollege- aged students and discovering new gems of teaching literature.

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Spring 2020: Recordings
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