Core Classics Review November 2020

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EPTA UK is delighted to present a review of the Core Classics collection from ABRSM Publishing. Commentary comes from Liz Giannopoulos.

Core Classics from ABRSM comprises a collection of seven books containing a ‘rich selection of engaging pieces to form the backbone of any pianist’s repertoire’. As the UK's largest music education body, one of its largest music publishers and the world's leading provider of music exams, it is perhaps not surprising that much of the repertoire has been selected from their back catalogue, and brings to the forefront some forgotten gems. The high-quality finish of the books coupled with the clarity and consistency of the presentation, arrangements and editing meet the high standards we have come to expect from ABRSM.

Each book has been organised by examiners and piano teachers to progress in musical complexity. A closer look reveals how the collection can support the development of pianistic technique and highlights the value of this collection for ‘building technical skills and confidence’.

Grades 1-2

Andante (Haydn arr. Bullard) is a suitably light-hearted opener for the series as a whole, requiring a delicate staccato touch and some elementary finger gymnastics. Sailor’s Song (Swinstead) demands rhythmic control and independence of articulation between the hands, whilst Minuet in G (Mozart) calls for careful gradation of dynamics and tonal control when changing hand position.

Grades 2-3

More complex rhythms and denser key signatures start to emerge in the second book. The regular clef changes in Little Habañera (Mackie) will help to reinforce accurate reading whilst the magical qualities of The Temple by the Sea (McLeod) explores tonal colour and expressive playing. Roseingrave’s Sarabande in E minor introduces parallel thirds; a technique that is further developed and extends to parallel sixths in Grades 3-4 in Minuet in G (Beethoven).

Grades 3-4

Idylle (Chaminade) and Premier Chagrin (Godard) provide opportunities to explore pedal technique and calls for careful voicing. Finger substitution for repeated notes features in Rondo in F (Mozart) and returns with increasing complexity in Soldatenmarsch (Fuchs) in Grades 4-5.

Grades 4-5

The polyphonic textures in Prelude in D minor (Lyadov) employ finger substitutions when playing sustained notes. Study in D minor (Farrenc) is an exercise in broken chord inversions whilst Allegro molto (Kuhlau) explores a variety of arpeggio and scale patterns.

Grades 5-6

Prelude in E minor (Chopin) offers opportunities to explore long phrasing and chord voicing. Invention No. 8 in F (Bach) provides a rich stylistic contrast and calls for tonal control between the hands in two part polyphonic texture.

Grades 6-7

Careful tempo management and clarity of fingerwork will be tested in Fantasia in D minor (Mozart). Les Rozeaux (Couperin) is a detailed study in ornamentation and dexterity. The diversity in this volume can be exemplified by the ‘impetuoso energicamente’ time signature changes in the robust Carousel (Bodorová), immediately followed by the ‘dolce’, ‘sempre legato’ of the sonorous Romance dans paroles (Fauré).

Grades 7-8

The final volume presents a culmination of the techniques that have previously been explored and celebrates the achievements of the developing pianist with a collection of favourites including Impromptu in A flat (Schubert), Rondo: third movement from ‘Pathétique’ Sonata in C minor (Beethoven) and Consolation No. 3 (Liszt), concluding with the triumphant Fantaisie in E minor (Mendelssohn).

Whilst some influential composers and the most popular works are notably absent, the diversity of material and the avoidance of duplication ensures the collection can stand alongside other popular anthologies. This series of books offers developing pianists the opportunity to experience a wide variety of styles, techniques and composers.