11 minutes reading time (2128 words)

Winter 2020: New Music & Materials Reviews

(S4) TOCCATA "HYGAGAN," OPUS 229
by Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee

From the FJH Contemporary Keyboard Sheets, Toccata "Hygagan" by Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee is an engaging and virtuosic late-intermediate piano solo.

Born in Massachusetts, Rahbee is a first-generation Armenian American. She was a piano major at Juilliard, and a self-taught composer who began by writing pieces for her students. For the past forty years, she has been concentrating on composing, not only for piano, but also voice, orchestra, percussion, and much more.

Rahbee's music reflects her background and connection to the folk music of Armenia. Her toccata has a distinctive eastern European contemporary sound reminiscent of early twentieth-century composers like Bartók, Kabalevsky, and fellow Armenian Aram Khachaturian. Yet, Toccata "Hygagen" (which means Armenian) is fresh, vibrant, and modern.

The energetic opening section in 7/8 meter is daringly fast. In a 3+4 pattern, the left hand octaves carve out a rhythmically intense melody. Punctuating the offbeats, the right hand interjects with dissonant staccato chords. The dynamics add to the five-octave roller coaster adrenaline rush, with long crescendos that suddenly drop to mezzo piano and slowly build again. Though it starts in E minor, there is no key signature; accidentals signal new tonal areas, and the piece ends with a C-minor triad.

The longer molto expressivo B section in 6/8 meter starts mezzo piano, with a two-against-three pattern of quarter notes versus dotted quarter notes. The melody is completely transformed into a hauntingly beautiful series of double sixths. The music builds to a fortissimo as the left hand expands into three octaves of flowing eighth notes outlining the minor harmonies; then it all melts into a quiet chromatic polyphonic section. The gorgeous melody returns briefly, before the inevitable return of the rhythmic 7/8 section in its entirety. A one-page coda marked appassionato reprises a small part of the B section.

I am definitely adding Toccata "Hygagan" to my library. It is a well-crafted and musically interesting piece, a showstopper that would be perfect in a competition or on the concert stage. (FJH, $3.95) —Carmen Doubrava

(E1-3) ALFRED'S GROUP PIANO FOR ADULTS,
ENSEMBLE MUSIC BOOKS 1 AND 2:
REPERTOIRE FOR PIANO DUET, TWO PIANOS, AND MULTIPLE PIANOS

selected by E.L. Lancaster and Kenon D. Renfrow

Ensemble Music Books 1 and 2 are designed for the collegiate group piano course and correlate to the two-volume textbook Alfred's Group Piano for Adults (AGPA). The repertoire is arranged in increasing difficulty, and the authors provide a suggested placement for each within the curriculum. Users of AGPA will discover how this collection provides one additional ensemble experience in each of the twenty-six units (except the initial unit). There is some variety in ensemble type and usage, although with a heavy reliance on duets.

The dominant ensemble types are student-student and teacher-student duets. Much of the music is fast and spirited—there are dances, boogies, and rags, with only a few moderate, reflective selections. This relatively one-sided approach to repertoire suggests a certain pedagogical usage: fun-filled ensemble playing as motivation for students to practice and increase their technical command. The student-student duets feature parts of equal difficultly and trading of melody and accompaniment. Composers include many of Alfred's most popular: Dennis Alexander, Melody Bober, Martha Mier, Robert D. Vandall, and others. In the first book, the teacher-student duets are mostly by lesser-known historical composers. Faced with a class of disparate abilities, teachers may consider assigning some of the secondo parts to the more advanced students.

The third and fourth categories of ensembles are accompaniments for technical patterns and standard solo intermediate repertoire. Bober's popular-style teacher duets are included for several Hanon exercises in Book 1 and for scales in Book 2 (C, G, and G-flat major). Those who know Lancaster and Renfrow's Favorite Classics series will recognize the two-piano approach to standard intermediate literature, with six accompaniments featured in each book. All of these solos (such as Clementi's Sonatina in C Major) already exist in the core text, but because both the arranged teacher part and the original solo are printed, these books remain usable outside the AGPA series.

The final category is the smallest—there are only three multi-keyboard ensembles across both supplements. It is suspected that the authors believe the primary AGPA texts contain a sufficient number. While there are only one or two in these ensemble collections, the music is well chosen. The arrangements are by Vandall, and each uses an American folk tune, written for four to six players reading from a multiline open score. For the group piano classroom, these optional supplementary books provide a graded collection of engaging duets, with the bonus of one or two larger ensemble pieces. The mixture of solos and varied duets makes broader use within the studio an appealing possibility as well. (Alfred Publishing, $10.99 each) —Sara Ernst

(S1-4) GRAND FAVORITES FOR PIANO BOOKS 1–6
by Melody Bober

Melody Bober's recent collection, Grand Favorites for Piano, is on my radar for purchase and use in my studio this fall! I am truly excited to have a glimpse into these six books, ranging from the early elementary level on up through the later intermediate level. Bober's intent for these books is presented clearly and concisely in her preface: "Time-honored classics and cherished folk songs have always been part of my teaching studio for several reasons. Traditional folk songs give students the opportunity to enjoy the same music that their parents and grandparents loved when they were children. Additionally, learning classical themes introduces students to historically significant repertoire and famous composers." Each book contains between twelve and thirteen solos featuring arrangements of folk tunes and classical melodies.

Book One features folksongs like "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep," "Hot Cross Buns," and "Go Tell Aunt Rhody," to name a few. Students will really enjoy the duet part to "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep"—Bober tosses in some jazzy chords that make the student part sound pretty impressive. Favorite classics such as Clarke's "Trumpet Voluntary" and the "William Tell Overture" are perfect for the young pianist. All of the pieces in this book stay in the Middle C position and the duets support and round out the solos nicely.

Book Two pieces extend out of the Middle C position and offer up occasional primary chords in the left hand. My favorite (that I played many times "just because") was "Jazzy Old MacDonald." You can guess this one: featured in the duet part are zippy, jazzy chords. Offenbach's famous "Can Can," marked "speedily," and Dvorak's "Largo," which features the melody moved an octave higher for more variety, are wonderful pieces for the student—they sound good and are somewhat challenging too. Take note: only the folk songs in this book feature a duet part.

Book Three pieces now offer up more primary chords, scalar patterns, and movement involving a two-octave range across the keyboard. "Chopsticks" (which I also had to play several times because it is just too good to pass by!) features a mostly single-note accompaniment with occasional chords in the left hand, and the right hand takes on all that is typically played with two hands in traditional rote-taught renditions of this tune. "Für Elise" is also included, but is written in the key of D minor. Bober works primarily with the main theme, which she moves up and down an octave for more variety.

Book Four offers up early-intermediate selections that are fun and appealing. Folk tunes such as "When the Saints" and "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain" are favorites. The latter features a boogie bass line that will make the student sound hot! Classics such as "The Barber of Seville" and "La donna è mobile" provide an opportunity to teach aria style to students.

Book Five offers more familiar tunes for the middle-intermediate student. "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" capitalizes on jazz harmonies and a wonderful impromptu modulation from C major to E-flat major! In addition, a welcomed favorite, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," features Bober at her best with imaginative variations: Variation I features a Latin feel, Variation II goes for classical elegance, and Variation III offers up a boogie-woogie style.

Book Six cashes in with more familiar tunes like "America," "Greensleeves," "Scarborough Fair," "Blue Danube," and "Hungarian Dance," to name a few. "Scarborough Fair" begins with a beautiful introduction that glides easily into the melody. Bober challenges the student in this arrangement by moving the melody down an octave and then requiring the left hand accompaniment to cross over the right hand! "Hungarian Dance" provides a glimpse into the original at a more player-friendly level; a student who is not ready to play the original can certainly master this with ease and sound AWESOME! 

This six-book collection is a must-have on any piano teacher's shelf. Bober is imaginative in her arrangements, and the selections provide the opportunity for students to sample old favorites, yet with new twists in sound and style. (Alfred, $7.99–$8.99 each) —Adrienne E. Wiley

(S5-6) QUICK LOOKS AT TRANSCRIPTIONS:

CHACONNE FROM PARTITA NO. 2 IN D MINOR BY J.S. BACH
arranged for piano, left hand, by Johannes Brahms

Henle's volume of Brahms's arrangement of J.S. Bach's Chaconne in D Minor for violin is extracted from the 2017 Neue Ausgabe (New Edition). No fewer than seven sources were consulted to produce this edition, and it is fascinating to read both about "Brahms's careful study of this piece" and his ongoing engagement with the work, including his comments in a letter to Clara Schumann
in 1877:

To me the Chaconne is one of the most wonderful, most unfathomable pieces of music. On one staff, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful impressions...the piece entices me to engage with it in every way...I find only one way to create for myself a very small, yet approximate and completely pure enjoyment of the work: if I play it with my left hand alone!

The clean edition includes fingerings from both editor and Brahms, which can mitigate some of the inherent technical challenges. (G. Henle Verlag, $11.95) —Ann DuHamel


SYMPHONY NO. 4 BY JOHANNES BRAHMS
arranged for piano by Idil Biret

Brahms enthusiasts seeking a substantial challenge will appreciate Idil Biret's transcription of Brahms's Symphony No. 4, part of Schott's Virtuoso Piano Transcription Series. The brief introductory notes from Biret detail a lifetime history of creating transcriptions, from childhood through study with Nadia Boulanger at the Paris Conservatoire. This volume, in the Lisztian tradition of truly virtuosic transcriptions, has considerable technical demands, but nevertheless allows the player to display "sonar imagination," and to "develop the sense of polyphony, colour and creativity on the keyboard." Three staves are printed throughout, providing obvious voice leading, although hand distribution is not always evident. No fingering is provided, and often tenths are required; some passages seem almost impossible, so a successful performer will need Biret's prodigious technique. This transcription will likely be more satisfying for a larger hand, as it is not easily negotiated for a smaller-handed pianist, even with the inclusion of some sostenuto pedal indications. (Schott, $27.99) —Ann DuHamel


INTRODUCTION AND LEZGHINKA FROM THE BALLET "GAYANEH" BY ARAM KHACHATURIAN
arranged for piano by Nima Farahmand Bafi 

Though it provides no critical or editorial notes, Sikorski's edition of Khachaturian's work is a rollicking good time. This is a pianistic "concert arrangement for piano." It contains bravura elements of octaves, thick-textured chords, tremolos, and frequent jumps; while the arrangement has its challenges and is occasionally repetitive, it is satisfying and fun to play, providing an alternative to pieces like Khachaturian's Toccata. (Sikorski, $13.99) —Ann DuHamel

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 U.S. Ann earned a DMA from the University of Iowa, and recently began her term as the President of the Minnesota Music Teachers Association.

SARA M. ERNST teaches piano and piano pedagogy at the University of South Carolina. She serves as the President of South Carolina MTA and is a member of the College of Examiners for the Royal Conservatory.

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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Art—A Mirror Beauty
Winter 2020: Book Review
 

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Ernest J. Kramer on Friday, 11 December 2020 13:00

Where is the Beethoven review I submitted that was supposed to appear in this issue?

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Where is the Beethoven review I submitted that was supposed to appear in this issue?

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