Rachmaninoff: Étude-tableau in D minor, Op. 33, No. 5
This 3-minute study is not especially well known but I feel it’s one of Rachmaninoff’s most vivid piano pieces. It starts with an unhurried dance rhythm, taking root in the sombre low register of the piano and gradually climbing. At certain moments the harmonies echo the ancient sound of Russian Orthodox choral music.
Schubert: Sonata in B-flat, D 960, I. Molto moderato
Every so often a piece of music comes into the world as if from some other realm, and we’re all grateful Schubert got this one down on paper before his time on earth ran out. I’ve been playing this sonata for years, and each time I pick it up it seems even more impossibly beautiful.
William Albright: The Nightmare Fantasy Rag (A Night On Rag Mountain)
A brilliant mash-up of Scott Joplin, Franz Liszt, modernism and almost heavy metal (near the end). Albright published this in 1970 during a revival of ragtime music in the U. S. I stumbled upon the piece a few years ago and literally laughed out loud the first time I heard it.
Cadenzas to Mozart concertos K 491 and 450
These are a few examples of cadenzas I either composed for these concertos or semi-improvised while performing them.
Mendelssohn: Song Without Words, Op. 30, No. 1
Mendelssohn tried out a few boring titles for a group of his piano pieces before arriving at the ingenious “Songs Without Words.” They were a smashing success in Mendelssohn’s time and were played in living rooms all over Europe. Here is one of my favourites, performed at a house concert on one of my favourite pianos.
György Ligeti: White on White from Etudes, book III (2001)
Ligeti took inspiration from all kinds of sources including Balinese gamelan music and African polyrhythms, both of which can be felt in White on White. Using almost exclusively the white keys of the piano (hence the title), the piece starts out slow and austere, then launches into a mesmerizing whirlwind of rhythmic complexity.
Henri Dutilleux: Choral et variations from Sonate (1948)
Dutilleux is somewhat of a musicians’ composer. Thus his Piano Sonata is extremely sophisticated in ways musicians can appreciate. But it also has a raw physicality that is not often present in his other works. This massive set of variations is the finale of a three-movement sonata, all of which is worth checking out if you don’t happen to know it.