Great Piano Pieces

I have compiled some of my favorite piano recordings on spotify. (Sorry rdio folks, I tried to make an equivalent playlist, but rdio doesn’t have some of the recordings I wanted and I couldn’t find suitable replacements.) Below are some short program notes.

Ravel Piano Concerto 2

One of the best overall. If I had to choose, the second movement is my favorite piano piece. I play it often, when I can. It is soft and meandering. The middle section’s intensity is a thrilling lift. Goose bumps come regurlarly while listening.

Stravinsky Three Movements of Petrushka

Originally a ballet for orchestra, he arranged it for piano by request. I first heard this in 2004 at CSU for the opening of their new music hall. The excellent Yakov Kasman performed and taught a master class. It was the first time I saw someone stand up during a piano solo due to his own intensity and interest in the piece. One of the most exciting and helpful performances I ever saw. I found a copy of the sheet music and was unable to play certain parts. (Being an orchestra original, it is for many instruments. The piano reduction is reduced to sometimes three staves. Having only two hands presents a problem. Somehow Mr. Kasman gets around that limitation.)

John Adams Phrygian Gates

A half-hour piece in a minimalist style. It starts simply enough with short phrases repeated many times over. The complexity and beauty increase throughout. Some people do not like minimalism. I feel about it the same as I feel about all music genres: the genre is unimportant, the quality of the sound is what makes it good. Phrygian Gates has many new ideas and sounds, many pleasing. This is why I enjoy it. But for those unfamiliar with minimalism: it has no melody and little harmony. The joy felt here is from understanding what is happening and the genuine feeling of pleasure when hearing something new and original (to me, this is the mark of a great composer).

Prokofiev Piano Concerti 1, 2, 3

The Russians are my favorite composers (and often performers; see above). Continuing on my last point about enjoying new sounds, Prokofiev was one of the most inventive composers. Although only a handful of years behind Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev was a century ahead in terms of originality. His concerti are my favorite compositions of his. Unlike Chopin (who was a poor arranger for orchestra, and thus produced piano concerti that are little more than excellent piano over orchestral chord changes), Prokofiev excelled at all voices of the orchestra. His concerti are thus more like duets between piano and orchestra, where each has an important part in the music. I have heard these concerti so many times they no longer sound dissonant. Instead I love hearing the chords because they are so new. My ears don’t hear things like this. The second concerto, although the least popular of the three, has some of the best rhythms and chords I’ve heard.