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20th C. Music for Children

Béla BARTÓK (1881-1935) Four pieces from Ten Easy Pieces Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) Les Cinq Doigts Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Music for Children, op. 65 Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Children’s Notebook, op.60 Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978) Pictures from Childhood Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990) Five pieces from Piano Album Anton WEBERN (1883-1945) Kinderstück Béla BARTÓK (1881-1935) Four pieces from Mikrokosmos, Volume 6

Raymond Clarke, piano
DIVINE ART 25022 [77mins; recorded 2001 at King’s Hall, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne]

This most recent disc from one of the UK's most distinguished recording pianists (but infrequent recitalist?) should be in every piano teacher’s collection. It is not new (released 2004) but you too may have missed it then, as I did. (Musical Pointers is keen to review older recordings and re-releases, which may bring in new readers and potential purchasers.)

Demonstrating that virtuosity is not just a matter of prestidigitation and power (whereby some pianists fool the public) Clarke takes the childrens pieces by his chosen composers as seriously as they did when writing them. I had been taught (and in turn taught my sons) those by Bartok, Prokofiev and Stravinsky, also Nielsen’s, Kurtag's etc, and from Raymond Clarke have been pleased to become acquainted with those of the four other composers he selected. Introducing them into teaching schedules will enlarge musical horizons for keener young piano pupils.

Most pianists will have played some of these pieces but in due course discarded them; Clarke regards them as seriously as their larger and more complex works. He goes into each set in details, tackling the vexed question of those pieces (Stravinsky's and Nielsen's) for which an unchanging 5-finger position is intended; better not to play them that way, though. And, at the other extreme, Webern's re-discovered serial miniature (premiered belatedly by a nine-year old) is "as overloaded with unrealisable performance directions" as the composer's other music - some forty dynamic prescriptions in nineteen bars!

Clarke's notes, running to an amazing 10 pages, are exemplary and ought to be available elsewhere for their insight. At the least, Divine Art might consider making them available on their website?

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also Music Web's fuller review.