Knighted by the Queen in 2015, Sir Karl Jenkins is established as one of the most performed living composers in the world, his music instantly recognised by anyone who takes even a casual interest in contemporary culture.
In this, his 75th birthday year, Jenkins celebrates his astonishing career with Karl Jenkins: Piano, a new recording from Decca Records with an accompanying sheet music collection published by Boosey & Hawkes, which is the subject of this review.
According to the publishers, Karl Jenkins: Piano offers,
“Intimate and spiritually uplifting classics reimagined for solo piano, including Adiemus, Cantilena, Benedictus, Palladio, Ave verum, And the Moster did Weep and In paradisum. Also included are original piano solos Quirky Blue and Canción plateada, plus White Water, specially composed for the album. Recreate for yourself the mystery, pathos and enchantment of these iconic sounds.”
But to what extent can the mystery, pathos and enchantment of Jenkins’ music actually be realised in simple piano arrangements? Let’s find out…
Reimagined for Piano
Like so many, my first knowing encounter with the music of Karl Jenkins was his 1995 crossover album Adiemus: Songs of Sanctuary, although he already had a substantial career behind him, dating back to his stint with jazz-fusion band Soft Machine in the 1970’s.
The Adiemus project eventually spawned five studio albums as well as live recordings and compilations. In his later works Jenkins built on his signature sound in the context of large-scale choral concert works such as the global hits The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace (1999) and Requiem (2005), among many others.
Introducing his new album, Jenkins writes:
“This solo piano album represents intimate and reflective realisations of music from my œuvre from 1995 to the present day, with the addition of three new pieces. The greater part of this sortie was for themes from my choral works: Adiemus, The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, Requiem, Stabat Mater, Gloria and The Peacemakers, together with an introspective version of Palladio. The originals are pared down to the bare bones and almost sound as they did when originally conceived at the piano.”
On his website, the composer clarifies:
“When I first wrote these pieces, I was thinking about them in an orchestral style, so this album has given me the opportunity to go back to the origins and recreate them on piano in an intimate and personal way. It has been quite nostalgic and also very enjoyable to revisit my old scores and transform them into something new.”
When the Decca Records album appeared on Apple Music a couple of months ago, I must admit that I had misgivings about whether these solo piano versions of such beloved and epic music would succeed; even after listening to the recording a few times I was still in two minds.
However, it was in sitting down with the sheet music score and playing through the arrangements for myself that I found myself fully won over by them. These are purposefully more intimate, domestic realisations of Jenkins’ compositions, and as such they are not only effective, but deeply touching.
In some cases, certainly, I found myself embellishing and expanding on the minimal score, a practice which I suspect (and must hope) Jenkins would heartily approve of. However, such musical shenanigans are not necessary in order to gain genuine satisfaction from these imaginative and exquisitely concentrated arrangements.
In his introduction, Jenkins underlines the point that he is not himself a virtuoso player; his arrangements would suit late-intermediate to early-advanced players (around UK Grade 4-6). They are no more than three minutes long in performance, and all comfortably succeed in making their mark within this humble time-frame, and using concise pianistic resources.
Here, then, is the list of included pieces:
Benedictus, from The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace
Hymn, from Adiemus: Songs of Sanctuary
Lullay, from Sella Natalis
The Prayer: Laudamus te, from Gloria
Adiemus, from Adiemus: Songs of Sanctuary
Agnus Dei, the The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace
Pie Jesu, from Requiem
Ave verum, from Stabat Mater
Healing Light: a Celtic Prayer, from The Peacemakers
I’ll Make Music, from Gloria
In paradisum, from Requiem
And the Mother did Weep, from Stabat Mater
The Girl with the Green Eyes
Canción plateada, from Adiemus Colores
Only Heavenly Music, from Stella Natalis
Lacrimosa, from Requiem
Kyrie, from The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace
The music book itself is produced to the highest standard, as one would expect for a high-profile publication delivered by a publisher with Boosey & Hawkes‘ experience and pedigree.
The book sports a delightfully apt glossy cover design to match Decca’s recording, tastefully channelling imagery from Jenkins’ previous work (notable The Armed Man).
The 60-page interior includes the composer’s introduction, copyright and contents pages, and the music itself. This is clearly presented, generously sized and well-spaced throughout. Some pieces include pages turns, which are generally well positioned. Minimal pedalling suggestions are included, although there are no fingering suggestions.
The transcriptions mirror those of the recording, although notably White Water appears as a solo piece here, while on the album it is a gorgeous duet (for which Jenkins is joined at the piano by his wife, the pianist, composer and well-loved educator Carol Barrett).
Fans of Jenkins’ music are unlikely to be disappointed either with his selection of pieces here, or with the unimpeachable quality of the solo piano arrangements, each work seemingly distilled to perfection.
It is no wonder that any composer would arrange their music with sympathy for the originals, but the particular intelligence and aplomb with which Jenkins achieves this, though unsurprising, is hugely impressive.
Playing through the collection has proved to be a trip down several memory lanes, highlighting the major role that Jenkins’ work has played in contemporary musical culture. While I was enthusiastic to explore this album, I loved it far more than I had initially expected to.
The piano originals here are also well worth exploring. Quirky Blue will appeal to those who enjoy approachable jazzy piano pieces, while White Water is an impressionistic delight; both these pieces are at the top level of difficult within the collection, and would make excellent recital solos.
To summarise, then, Karl Jenkins: Piano is proving to be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding publications of the year.
Once in a while, I hear a new recording which not only introduces me to a rich seam of new repertoire, but which is quite simply mesmerising from start to finish. Elusive Affinity is Russian pianist Anna Gourari’s third recording for ECM recordings, and it is such a disc.
Juxtaposing a selection of tonal and non-tonal music, with a focus on pieces which explore musical connections and influences extending across the arts, Elusive Affinity is a genuinely astonishing album on every level, and a clear choice for Recording of the Month here on Pianodao.
Anna Gourari was born in Kazan, Russia, where her parents were both teachers at the Kazan Music Academy. Anna began piano lessons at the age of five, and from 1979 attended a special school for gifted children in her home town. Later she attended several master classes with Professor Vera Gornostaeva at the Moscow Conservatory.
In 1990, she moved to Germany and continued her piano studies at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich, a city she has subsequently made her home. Having won several major competitions, Gourari has gone on to perform worldwide, including with many leading orchestras.
Having already made several recordings, including for Decca, Anna Gourari made her ECM debut in 2012 with Canto Oscuro, an album featuring works by Bach/Busoni, Hindemith, Gubaidulina and Bach/Siloti. Her next release was Visions Fugitives, which coupled Prokofiev’s eponymous work with Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor and the Fairy Tale in F minor by Medtner.
photo: André Kertész
Anna Gourari’s programme for her latest disc is as follows:
Antonio Vivaldi arr. J.S. Bach: Largo from Concerto No.4 in G minor
Alfred Schnittke: Five Aphorisms (1990)
Giya Kancheli: Piano Piece No.15
Rodion Shchedrin: Diary – Seven Pieces (2002)
Arvo Pärt: Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinuschka (1977)
Wolfgang Rihm: Zwiesprache (1999)
Giya Kancheli: Piano Piece No.23
Alessandro Marcello arr. J.S. Bach: Adagio from Concerto No.3 in D minor
At the heart of this recital we hear the three Suites of contemporary piano music, composed by Schnittke, Shchedrin and Rihm.
Regarding Schnittke’s Five Aphorisms (1990), we are told in the CD booklet note by Paul Griffiths,
“Schnittke was thinking of a friend and comrade he had found to walk with him through the darkness, Joseph Brodsky, one of whose poems he wanted recited before each movement, the choice left to the pianist. Words – black as this music is black, bleak as this music is bleak, cut with the lightning of humour or intense vitality – would preface, or perhaps even seem to instigate, a musical fragment, often a fragmented fragment.”
The five short pieces amount to around 14 minutes of music which is indeed bleak, stark in its directness and emotive power. At times shocking, the finished impact (upon me at least) is a cathartic one. This is music which I feel I shouldn’t “like”, which yet grabs me by the scruff of the neck and hollers for attention. In Gourari’s hands, the pieces reveal their striking intensity and dramatic impact with stunning results.
Rodion Shchedrin’s Diary – Seven Pieces (2002) meanwhile was dedicated to Gourari and inspired by her playing. Apparently a reflection on the life of a pianist and composer, the piece is a perfect vehicle for Gourari to reveal both the poise and power of her playing. From the dark insecurity of the opening Sostenuto assai through to the imploring outbursts of the final Sostenuto alla campana, this is music of shifting mood but uniform intelligence, Gourari’s commitment to each miniature here unequivocal.
Wolfgang Rihm’s sequence of tombeaux, Zwiesprache, dating from 1999, pays tribute to musicologists Alfred Schlee and Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht, the conductor Paul Sacher, and art sociologist Hermann Wiesler. Though once again predominantly dissonant, there is a melodicity to Rihm’s writing which makes this perhaps the most inviting of the three suites. Although taking us on another dark journey, Rihm is perhaps on the brink of achieving resolution.
Threaded between these three cycles are two Giya Kancheli miniatures drawn from his theatre and movie music, as well as Arvo Pärt’s early tintinnabuli-style Variations for the Healing of Arinuschka (1977).
The Pärt piece is perhaps the most well-known; its title meaning “variations to speed the recovery of little Arina”, it was composed for the composer’s youngest daughter in the same year (1976) as his even more famous Für Alina, composed for another of his four children. The simple tune, naïve in tone, is developed with deceptive technique until finally given a canonic accompaniment. Nestling between Shchedrin and Rihm, Pärt’s music offers shooting rays of light and hope.
Kancheli’s pieces, meanwhile, bring a warmth and melodic accessibility which, snuggled between such dark and dissonant works, takes on a more extraordinary and affecting power than they would surely elicit elsewhere. It is in the programming of these unassuming miniatures that the genius of this recital is perhaps most fully revealed.
Gourari’s investigation of artistic affinities is framed with Bach’s transcriptions of Venetian composers Antonio Vivaldi and Alessandro Marcello. Once again, this is music of sublime appeal, magnified by the context, so also illuminating the qualities of the rest of the programme. As Paul Griffiths would have it:
“There is therefore no conflict but rather an elusive affinity between the sombre lessons we are being given by Schnittke, Shchedrin and Rihm, on the one side, and the luminosity we receive from Pärt and Kancheli. The light has gone out everywhere. What Bach could achieve is now drifting apart as we catch echoes of it through this succession of pieces from our own time, to reassemble itself, beatifically, in the concluding Marcello adagio. “And yet that is not the whole story. Anna Gourari makes these Bach slow movements, too, ours. Though so beautifully held and presented, they are already on the point of disintegrating, the melody curving away into empty space. And the newer music, cherished and invigorated, is finding its own stability.”
Anna Gourari’s performances of these works are never less than breathtaking. Aside from the virtuosity – which is truly stunning – there’s a colour to her playing, a variety to her tone production, which still further underlines the remarkable affinities in her enterprising choice of music.
Perhaps above all else, Gourari’s mellifluous sense of pacing is really so wonderfully exquisite.
As one would expect from ECM Records, the recording here sounds fabulous throughout. Produced as ever by label founder Manfred Eicher, the recording was made at the Historischer Reitstadel, Neumarkt in January 2018, engineered by Stephan Schellmann.
Presented in standard CD case with additional cardboard outer sleeve, there is also a 28-page booklet including Paul Griffiths’ full note in English and German, several black-and-white artist photos, and three verses from Brodsky.
ECM Records productions can now all be streamed on the most popular commercial services, but in my view this is very much a recording to own, and I had no hesitation in purchasing a copy as soon as I heard it.
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.
Composed individually between 1812 and 1822, Weber’s four Piano Sonatas were written contemporaneously with the late Beethoven Sonatas, but their tone more anticipates the Early Romantic style of Schubert and Mendelssohn; for those interested in the bridge between Classicism and Early Romanticism, they are both indispensable and enlightening.
Weber’s extraordinary piano writing, its figuration and texture, has at times a quasi orchestral colour that even anticipates Liszt. His virtuosity as a player is evident in all four of these works, although three of the four were written for other dedicatees; in terms of difficulty are all at least diploma level.
There is some consensus that each Sonata surpasses its predecessors, but all are well-crafted and substantial concert works. Let’s take a quick look at each:
The Sonata No.1 in C, Op.24 dates from 1812 and is in four movements which follow the then-established Viennese classical model of Allegro – Adagio – Minuetto & Trio – Rondo (Presto). Though perhaps the weakest of the set, notable exponents nevertheless include Claudio Arrau, whose compelling recording of the work makes a strong case for it.
The Sonata No.2 in Ab, Op.39 followed in 1814-16, and is the largest of the four. The opening Allegro moderato con spirit ed assai legato is particularly ambitious, symphonic in stature. The following Andante is another substantial movement which continues the dramatic tone. The third movement, another Minuetto marked Presto assai, is essentially a Scherzo, and the Sonata finishes with a more serious Rondo (Moderato e molto grazioso).
There is a historical recording made by Alfred Cortot, a gripping live recording of Emil Gilels, and Paul Lewis has recently also committed this Sonata to disc.
The Sonata No.3 in D minor, Op.49 dates from 1816, and is my personal favourite. There are just three movements here. The opening Allegro feroce has a dramatic thrust and taut melodic development that seems at once to channel Beethoven, while the delicious Andante con moto offers a delightful theme followed by a series of whimsical but well-paced variations. The final Rondo – Presto brings the Sonata to an astonishing conclusion, with its five melodic ideas culminating in a virtuosic tour de force.
Those looking for recordings of the Third Sonata will want to check out Sviatoslav Richter’s stately live recording, which has a truly enervating finale. But give me Hamish Milne’s more recent reading, in which the Andante has a sparkling elegance which might charm your socks off.
The Sonata No.4 in E minor, Op.70 became Weber’s final work in the genre, and is perhaps the most adventurous of the set. The opening Moderato again reveals Beethoven’s shadow in its motific development, though perhaps lacks the immediacy of the Third Sonata’s opening.
The middle movements are swapped, the Menuetto appearing first. This is again a vivacious Presto, far removed from the classical ballroom. The third movement, marked Andante quasi Allegretto has an irresistible Schubertian charm, while the Finale is a Tarantella which again makes extreme technical demands. For recordings, I find Leon Fleischer’s version unbeatable, despite the rather hollow recorded sound.
The Schott Edition
The new Edition Schott appears in their top-end house style with silver soft covers, cream interior, and beautifully engraved, spacious notation.
The inner title page announces that this publication is “edited from the Text of the Carl Maria von Weber Complete Edition by Markus Bandur”.
The edition includes a two-page Preface in German and English, following which the remainder of the 144-page book is taken up with the scores of the four Sonatas.
The Preface largely deals with details of the original sources and approach to editing, but includes a useful section covering the special features of Weber’s notation, including his use of ornaments and how they might be interpreted. For performers, this is certainly essential reading.
Those wanting a more in-depth critical commentary are advised to refer to the complete Weber edition from which this publication has been drawn, which apparently offers more information about the history of the compositions and the critical response to them, as well as giving further background information on the source documents, variants and editorial procedures.
The Edition Schott publication is, then, squarely aimed at performers and general scholars.
Bandur notes that most editions readily available today are based on later 19th-century editions which add considerably to the text; in response he has returned to the first editions and consulted previously-ignored sources, going to great lengths to get as close as possible to presenting Weber’s intentions.
This has led to a surprisingly clean score in which every detail is very clearly presented. There are no added fingering suggestions, editorial interventions, and even footnotes are rare (and sadly only in German). Of note, however, in the first Sonata the editor has included in light grey text additional markings which Weber apparently wrote on the dedicatee’s score, while in Op.39 grey text is similarly used to identify text Weber added to the engraver’s proof.
Considering that so many great pianists over the decades have programmed and recorded Weber’s four Sonatas, it’s curious that they still aren’t better known, and the absence from the market of a decent edition has surely contributed to this ignorance.
The newly published Edition Schott version must, we hope, go a long way to righting this wrong and returning these masterpieces to the forefront of the Romantic piano repertoire where they belong.
Certainly, for anyone wanting to study or perform these fabulous pieces, the Edition Schott text is now the obvious choice.
Faber Music’s numerous piano anthologies have established themselves not only as enticing collections of sought-after pieces, but as a barometer of trends in the piano world.
The newly issued Peaceful Piano Playlist exemplifies this perfectly, offering a selection of relaxing classics and “new classical” pieces that will no doubt have huge appeal to teenagers and adults who play for pleasure and to relax.
If the title (and image above) already appeal, there’s a good chance that you will enjoy this publication immensely. So let’s take a closer look (and listen)…
First of all, the title. Describing the book as a “playlist” is not simply a playful nod towards contemporary listening habits; Faber Music have actually curated a Spotify playlist featuring almost all of the music which is included in the publication.
Here it is. You can listen to selected clips here as you read on, and enjoy the complete playlist over on Spotify:
And here is the full track listing:
I Giorni (Ludovico Einaudi)
Ab Ovo (Joep Beving)
Written On The Sky (Max Richter)
Gymnopédie No. 3 (Erik Satie)
Mass (Re-Imagined) (Phoria)
Pathétique Sonata, 2nd Movt (Ludwig van Beethoven)
Earnestly Yours (Keaton Henson)
The Tearjerker Returns (Chilly Gonzales)
Chord Left (Agnes Obel)
Engagement Party (Justin Hurwitz)
Last Song (Alexis Ffrench)
Clair de Lune (Claude Debussy)
Throes (Half Moon Run)
Aria (BWV 988) (J.S. Bach)
Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (Ryuichi Sakamoto)
What We Are (Anne Lovett)
Adagio in G minor (Tomaso Albinoni)
Faith’s Song (from Keeping Faith) (Laurence Love Greed)
Flora (Henrik Lindstrand)
Pavane pour une Infante défunte (Maurice Ravel)
Prelude in C (BWV846) (J.S. Bach)
Inizio (Ludovico Einaudi)
Strata (Poppy Ackroyd)
Piano Piece, Imperfect Moments Pt. 4 (Johannes Brecht)
To The Order Of The Night (Balmorhea)
Mandus (Jessica Curry)
Prelude in B minor (Op.28 No.6) (Frederic Chopin)
The Departure (from The Leftovers) (Max Richter)
Petrichor (Keaton Henson)
New Moon (Alexandre Desplat)
Piano Sonata No. 12 in F, K332, Adagio (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
Träumerei (Robert Schumann)
Variations on the Kanon (George Winston)
Meeting Points At 2AM (dné)
Clouds (Pam Wedgwood)
The range and quality of music here is certainly very impressive indeed. Most readers will no doubt recognise many of the pieces on this list, while also probably encountering quite a few titles for the first time here.
My initial response to the playlist itself was to be thrilled to see so much fresh, accessible music, and from such a range of different composers that today’s players clearly enjoy. That said, I was unsure about the inclusion of well-worn classics (about a third of the material) easily available elsewhere.
Having spent some time both playing and listening to the playlist, I’ve changed my mind. The inclusion of established favourites that fit with the overall mood of the collection has proven a welcome addition, just as old friends are welcome in a room otherwise full of strangers.
It’s also fair to say that the target market here is not classical aficionados; fans of Ludovico Einaudi and Keaton Henson may well come fresh to the music of Mozart, Chopin and Ravel and fall in love with these timeless masterpieces, which is surely no bad thing.
But it is, of course, the many new pieces which give this publication such significant appeal. There are pieces here that have proven hugely popular on streaming services, and have certainly earned their right to be included in a mainstream publication.
Standout favourites for me include Alexis Ffrench’s gorgeous Last Song, Poppy Ackroyd’s mesmerising Strata, the joyous harmonies of Jessica Curry’s Mandus, and the poignant simplicity of Henrik Lindstrand’s Flora.
Although billed by the publishers as “intermediate” I rather suspect they may have underestimated the difficulty of some of the pieces. The easiest pieces may be around UK Grade 3, but many others include a rhythmic complexity that may prove challenging, especially to those unfamiliar with the original recordings. The range certainly reaches above Grade 6. But this could be a good thing, extending the shelf life of the collection considerably.
The book itself is beautifully presented, with soft covers and binding which is both sturdy and flexible.
Not for the first time when a Faber Music anthology has arrived, I initially feared that the volume wouldn’t stay open on the music stand, before discovering that with only minimal persuasion it happily compiled, without degrading the book in the process.
Venturing inside, the book has 128 pages, which are mostly given over to the well-presented and generously-spaced notation of the 35 pieces.
A rather nice additional touch: throughout the book there are occasional full-page black-and-white photographs of relaxing landscapes, any of which I would rather be in right now instead of at my desk typing. Aside from adding aesthetic quality to the publication these have practical value, cleverly minimising page turns.
The notation includes no fingering suggestions; pedalling is also mostly left to the performer’s discretion. And I would have liked to see a short note about the background of each piece, especially as quite of lot of the music here is new to me.
As for the classical favourites here, the presentation is practical rather than authoritative; for example, the distribution between hands in the slow movement of the Pathétique Sonata is helpful, if not urtext. Most pieces are unabridged originals, but the Ravel is the much simplified and shortened version which previously appeared in Faber Music’s outstanding Mindfulness Piano Collection (reviewed here).
Faber are to be loudly applauded for their vision and generosity in putting this collection together.
The Peaceful Piano Playlist without doubt includes an enterprising and impressive range of composers and music, with plenty to appeal to those players who stream similar playlists online and are drawn to this musical genre.
In practice, I should think that even a fairly advanced player would take quite a while to work their way through all 35 pieces included here; the book represents superb value for money, and is undoubtedly one that players will want to keep returning to.
To summarise, Faber Music have brilliantly encapsulated a very current musical zeitgeist with this collection, and it deserves to simply fly off the shelves!