….Perhaps not as evocative as The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, the title of a beautifully written book by T E Carhart, but no less intriguing than the premises described in Carhart’s memoir.

Before me were arrayed forty, perhaps fifty pianos of every make and model, and in various stages of dismantling. On my left, legless grand pianos……lay in a row on their flat side, the undulating curves of their cabinets a series of receding waves. Uprights clustered on the other side of the workshop, pushed up against one another as one would store two dozen chests of drawers in a spacious attic.

Around the edges of the room, behind and around and even under the pianos, in every available corner, lay scattered parts and pieces that had been removed from them.

This piano shop – or rather workshop – is the haunt of my tuner and technician, Rolf Dragstra, who, along with his colleague Klaus, restore and sell pianos of all shapes and sizes. Like the piano shop of the book, the space is crammed with pianos, and piano bits and pieces – a set of ornate Steinway legs, piano candelabra, cloth bags containing felts, rollers, pins and hammers, a model of the action of a modern Yamaha grand, a display of the tools of the tuner’s trade. There are baby uprights ranged around the walls, the sort of pianos I remember from school, and tall, dark drawing room uprights from another era, some with attractive decoration and embellishments. Five grand pianos fill the middle space, including a rather magnificent Blüthner, whose gleaming case is decorated with walnut marquetry panels.

Rolf’s “piano heritage” is solid: his grandparents in Germany owned a music shop, and his father trained at the Blüthner factory. His brother, who still lives in Germany, is also a piano technician and restorer. Formerly head of tuning and technical services at Chappell of Bond Street, Rolf is now working freelance and keeping busy with private and corporate clients. He is always full of interesting stories and anecdotes, and when he came to tune my piano a couple of weeks ago, he showed me some photos on his phone of a rather special Bosendorfer, which was autographed by luminaries of international piano and music, including Leonard Bernstein, Sir Georg Solti, Andras Schiff, and an indecipherable signature which could have belonged to Friedrich Gulda. Recently, Rolf has been looking after the Steinway at St Lawrence Jewry, which used to belong to Sir Thomas Beecham.

I visited Rolf’s workshop ostensibly to try a rather special grand piano. It was being played by another pianist when I arrived (Tessa Uys), but she quickly relinquished it to me and moved onto a little upright next door. We played the slow movement of Bach’s Concerto in D minor after Marcello, laughing as we listened to each other’s interpretation of the ornaments. I think we would have happily played around like this all afternoon, but Tessa had to go home. The workshop is a treasure trove of pianos and piano ephemera, and definitely worth a visit if you are looking for something in particular.

As well as tuning and restoration work, Rolf and Klaus have a concert instrument which they hire out, and they also offering a piano moving service.

For further information, please visit London Pianos or contact Rolf Dragstra on 07712 580078

Le Mer de Pianos, a short film about the oldest piano shop in Paris:

Richard Black

Who or what inspired you to take up your chosen instrument and make it your career?

I can’t remember what inspired me to take up playing the piano. I remember asking my mother for a piano for my 7th birthday. She bought me one, then made sure I learned it.

As for the career, I pretty much stumbled into it. I studied physics for my degree and worked for 8 years in industrial electronics, but never gave up practising the piano and was doing various accompanying work (initially unpaid, of course) from student days. Eventually I found I had enough to live on, though to this day I have one or two other strings to my bow, which I keep up as much for sentimental reasons as financial ones. Making recordings is one which has a frequent practical use, with singers and instrumentalists being often asked to submit recordings as a preliminary for competitions or auditions.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?

I was lucky to have an excellent teacher, Bernard King, when I was in my teens, and also lucky to be at a school with a very good music department. Fellow-pupils gave me good advice which I forget in the specifics but remember receiving. One school-friend founded a record label and through him I met Ronald Stevenson, who has been a good friend for nearly 30 years: I’ve played a lot of his music, solo vocal and chamber. His playing was uniquely beautiful and passionate and his verbal advice no less inspiring. The latter is still true, though sadly his health prevents him performing these days. I met John Ogdon through the same record label and watching him play (I turned pages for him on many occasions) was an object lesson in achieving the (apparently) impossible.

I’ve also learned a lot from singers I’ve worked with, both seasoned professionals and those of my own generation. Sir Donald Macintyre has made me think a lot about effective sound production

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Pianistically, the greatest challenge has been learning and performing Ronald Stevenson’s ‘Passacaglia on DSCH’. I hardly ever play solo anyway, and that’s a fair-sized challenge for anyone, so it was some way out of my comfort zone. Immensely rewarding, though. I promised Ronald back in the early 1980s I would do it, and hate to break a promise.

As an accompanist, I’ve played plenty of music that takes a bit of learning. One of the most interesting challenges was getting to grips with the songs of Bernard van Dieren. It took me several months to get a proper feeling for them, though I could sense from the first that there was real beauty there. I haven’t performed any in a while, and miss them. Alan Bush’s song cycle ‘Voices of the Prophets’ was a headscratcher – I reckon it includes the most difficult, second most difficult and third most difficult song accompaniments I know of.

Accompanying auditions is always a challenge. The singer (or instrumentalist) relies on you, and the accompanist can basically make or break a career. It’s no stress at all when someone turns up with a bit of ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ or ‘Carmen’, but sight-reading ‘Wozzeck’ or ‘Die Aegyptische Helene’ requires some concentration.

As an accompanist, you do sometimes get asked to do concerts at rather short notice, especially if you’ve a reputation as a reasonably handy sight-reader. That may be for no better reason than someone having forgotten to book anyone for the gig! But then there’s the situation where a soloist is flying in from another country and even if you have plenty of notice of the repertoire you may have very little time to rehearse together. One soon learns to work efficiently under such circumstances. Orchestral musicians of course are also all too familiar with the under-rehearsed scenario. When I got together with my two colleagues in the Pizzetti Trio, one of our main aims was to ensure we had adequate – plentiful! – rehearsal for every concert. It’s much more rewarding like that.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

I don’t do a huge amount of orchestral piano work, but the big difference from anything else a pianist does is that you don’t have the score, only an orchestral part, so you actually have to count – just like everyone else does all the time, of course. Once you’ve disciplined yourself to do that it’s not too tricky, though some of the piano parts are surprisingly awkward and of course you have to follow the conductor, usually from the back of the band.

In a chamber ensemble, by contrast, the pianist does have the score and so is, if not by any means the leader, at least the referee – you need to keep an eye on the other parts and make sure everyone is in the right place. And of course in any kind of ensemble work you have to listen to the whole sound, not just your own. This is why Wilhelm Fürtwängler said that if you can’t be an accompanist you will never be a musician. True! If you can’t accompany you’re obviously not listening properly. Fitting the sound of a piano seamlessly with voice(s), strings and/or winds is great fun.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

I’ve done very few recordings for commercial sale (though certainly over 200 demo and private recordings), and I think my first is probably my favourite: three song cycles by Ronald Stevenson (initially on CD, now on iTunes, CDBaby and all the rest). Moira Harris, Wills Morgan and me. I think we did the music justice, and we organised it all ourselves, which was a useful lesson in musical practicalities. I did the technical stuff and editing too.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

The Wigmore Hall, as much for sentimental reasons as any others. I’ve played there a couple of times and it’s a lovely feeling, but I’ve been in the audience countless times, often listening to friends performing, and it’s great. I’m not sure it’s the ultimate acoustic for piano, but it’s as good as it gets for string quartet, which is a favourite genre of mine, and voices bloom in there too.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I’ve already mentioned Ronald Stevenson and John Ogdon, and among pianists I could also mention Marc-André Hamelin, Marta Argerich, Benno Moiseiwitsch, Art Tatum, Percy Grainger… and lots more, of course. A rather random handful of other kinds of musicians might include Igor Markevitch, John Barbirolli, Furtwängler, Maxim Vengerov, Wissam Boustany, Alexander Ivashkin, Elizabeth Connell, Hans Hotter, Pavarotti and Dame Anne Evans.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Hearing John Ogdon play Busoni’s ‘Fantasia Contrappuntistica’ at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the late 1980s. He was in a bad mood and played with the kind of intensity you just don’t forget. The opening of the Coda Stretta, where there’s a fortissimo bass ostinato, was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard from a piano, by a long way.

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?

For me, few things can match the pleasure of playing Brahms’s and Beethoven’s chamber music – trios and quartets and the sonatas for various instruments. I also love playing Wagner’s operas in rehearsals: some of the piano reductions are very ingenious transcriptions, done in many cases by Liszt pupils.

I couldn’t possibly single out one composer or genre as a favourite to listen to, but string quartets by anyone rank highly, alongside symphonies by all the usual suspects and a few more besides, Martinu for instance. Anything at all by van Dieren and Ildebrando Pizzetti, two of my favourites among less-well-known composers. Stevenson, Shostakovich, Alkan…

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?

My work as a repetiteur is often very much about detail, and I do think that developing an eye and an ear for detail is crucial. But what I find myself missing most often in contemporary performances, by comparison with recordings from 50 or more years ago, is the sense that the music really means something to the performer. There’s no point at all in going after ‘individualism’ as an effect – that’s just a party trick. If you can work out for yourself what a piece means (which of course need not be verbal in the slightest), and transmit that through attention to the details, you’ll be individual all right.

What are you working on at the moment?

Untypically, a work for two pianos, ‘The Fortress of Illusion’ by Michael Maxwell Steer. It’s a marvellous piece in three movements which we’re playing at the Chetham’s Summer School in a few days from now. After that I’ve got a singer to accompany at the Leicester Square Theatre in a show based on Noel Coward, repetiteuring and coaching on operas of all kinds, accompanying auditions here there and everywhere and a handful of exams. This is why I enjoy my work: it’s practically never the same two days running.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Solving problems.

Richard Black is a highly versatile pianist whose work takes in opera, the symphony orchestra, chamber music and song recitals. He has worked for opera companies great and small in the UK, on operas ranging from half-forgotten gems of the late baroque (Opera Italiana) to the largest works of Wagner (Scottish Opera, Longborough Festival Opera) to new pieces composed in the 21st century (Royal Opera House, Tête à Tête Opera). His ability to play almost anything at sight and his wide knowledge of the opera repertoire have made him a familiar face at opera auditions, and he employs similar talents in accompanying students of every voice and instrument at Goldsmiths College.

As a recital accompanist, Richard has played for singers at Wigmore Hall and St John’s Smith Square, as well as in New York, Paris and Luxembourg. He has accompanied a wide range of instrumental works and played in a variety of chamber ensembles: he recently gave what was almost certainly the first UK performance in some decades of the piano trio by Pizzetti. He has for over 20 years had a strong interest in music by the Scottish composer and pianist Ronald Stevenson, and has performed and recorded many songs by Stevenson as well as playing several of his chamber and solo piano works, including the large-scale Passacaglia on DSCH. Other recordings include songs by Alan Bush and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and he has broadcast several times on BBC Radio 3.

Apart from playing the piano, Richard is an experienced recording engineer, producer and editor and a consultant on audio technology.

And so, on the day I received confirmation of my Diploma recital date (16th April, at Trinity College in Greenwich, where I took my ATCL), I gave a lunchtime recital at the NPL Musical Society (NPL MS), at Bushy House on the National Physical Laboratory campus in Teddington.

When I booked the concert, it was intended to be the “dress rehearsal” for the actual Diploma recital, for me and my page turner. I have played at the NPL MS before (with a violinist), and have attended a number of concerts there, all of which have been most enjoyable with high-quality programmes and performers. The audience, mostly NPL staff and former staff, is very supportive and friendly, and the society has a rather nice 100 year old medium-sized Steinway.

By the time I’d got dressed up, put my lipstick on, applied some “lucky perfume” (Jo Malone ‘Red Roses’), and warmed up on the piano, it stopped feeling like a dress rehearsal and began to feel like a real occasion, a ‘proper’ concert, the programme chosen entirely by me, without consultation with teacher or mentor, the notes written by me (a requirement for the Diploma): it was ‘my’ concert.

For all three levels of Diploma – ATCL, LTCL and FTCL (and the equivalent Diplomas with other exam boards such as DipABRSM and LRSM) – the candidate is required to give a recital lasting between 35 and 50 minutes, depending on the level of diploma. The material should be prepared to a very high standard (from LTCL on, the exam criteria state “to a professional standard”) and one should display musicality, technical assuredness, understanding of the composer’s intentions and an ability to convey these to the audience, communication skills, and stagecraft. Doing a “dry run” concert, either at home to friends, or in a more formal setting, is invaluable – not so much to flag up errors or inconsistencies (there were very few in my concert, I’m glad to say), but more to check the flow/energy of the programme and to hear how it all fits together. There is always a heightened sense of tension when one plays before an audience, whatever the venue, which can be extremely useful not just in learning how to cope with performance anxiety but also drawing on the release of adrenaline to help one raise one’s game and play better. I have to admit I was so excited about the concert (coming as it did the day after an extremely positive session with my teacher) that I couldn’t sleep the night before.

On the whole, I was extremely pleased with my performance. Rather than slog through the ‘Presto’ of the Bach Concerto (which is still in need of some housekeeping), I skipped the repeats, and no one was any the wiser. The Takemitsu was super on a bigger piano, and I deliberately allowed more “stasis” in the music, a sense of repose and waiting in the rests and silences. The turner missed the second turn, and even tried to take the music away (!) when he realised his mistake: he admitted to me afterwards that he had got rather caught up in the mood of the piece, which I suppose should be seen as a sign of my ability to “communicate”! A couple of things to fix in the Mozart, but nothing serious. And so to the Liszt, the big virtuosic piece of the programme……well, when someone came up to me afterwards and said “the Liszt was particularly haunting” I felt I’d really achieved something with that piece.

Other useful factors? The piano had some “squeaky” keys, but I simply ignored these. At one o’clock someone’s watch alarm went off, and was not immediately silenced (a capital offence at the Wigmore Hall!), but although I was aware of it, it didn’t throw me. Rustling programmes, someone coughing, the general ambient sounds of people and the park outside the window, all entered my peripheral consciousness but did not distract me from the task in hand. All good signs – I have worked very hard on my concentration (in particular using techniques in The Inner Game of Music and The Musician’s Way).

So, with exactly three weeks to go to the exam, I feel focused and excited. Of course, having been there and done it once before helps enormously because I know what to expect, but this Diploma is a big step up from the previous one (it’s the equivalent of 3-4 years in Conservatoire) and requires a greater level of commitment. I think I’m ready for the challenge.

An earlier article I wrote on the value of performing

Now in its 62nd season, the NPL Musical Society hosts regular concerts throughout the year with a wide variety of performers and programmes. Concerts take place in The Scientific Museum in Bushy House, an elegant 18th century house overlooking Bushy Park.For further information please contact Stephen Lea (stephen.lea@npl.co.uk)

This morning I had a lesson with my teacher, the last one before my Diploma exam, and I played the entire programme to her (I felt ever so slightly daunted to arrive at her house in north London and find her Blüthner grand with its lid up). This was a very useful exercise and one I would recommend to anyone who is preparing for an important exam, diploma, festival, competition or recital. It’s not the same as simply playing the programme through to family or friends: knowing one’s teacher’s critical ears are listening carefully makes one especially alert, and forces one to raise one’s game. Fortunately, I didn’t feel I was coming into the lesson completely cold, as ten days ago I played the programme through to a colleague, who is both a busy concert pianist and a skilled teacher. The intervening days between that play through and today’s gave me time to attend to various suggestions.

My teacher commented before I started that my programme is “big” (it lasts just under 40 minutes), but the strange thing is that having played it through in its entirety several times now, it doesn’t feel big to me. I used to worry that I would feel tired by the time I got to the last two pieces (two of Rachmaninov’s Op 33 Études-Tableaux) but today I felt I had enough energy left to see the pieces successfully through to the very last note – and I wasn’t holding back today either.

I was pleased that I was able to hold everything together, without any serious lapses of concentration or focus. I clocked a number of errors or places where some adjustments were needed, but these didn’t throw me or interrupt the flow. Personally, I was very pleased with the Takemitsu (my favourite piece in the programme) and the Mozart (second favourite!). My teacher’s comments were largely details concerning quality of sound (some of my fortes were too strident) or rhythmic issues – the sort of things an examiner is likely to pick up. There were one or two stylistic issues (flow in the LH of the G minor Étude-Tableau, for example), but overall I received plenty of positive feedback, and my teacher finished the lesson by saying “I think you deserve to do really well”.

So, with three weeks to go until the exam (I think – I’m still waiting for a confirmed date), there’s still plenty to do finessing and housekeeping my pieces, attending to the little details which could make the difference between a pass and a good pass, or a good pass and a distinction. It would be very easy to rest on my laurels at this point, but I want to go into the exam with everything as secure as possible. This is also one of the best insurance policies against performance anxiety, and lends a positive frame of mind to every performance I will give before the actual diploma recital.

Tomorrow is the “dress rehearsal”, a concert for my local music society and a chance for me and my page turner to check that we are working together as a slick team. The audience tomorrow will be friendly and supportive (a number of my friends will be attending) so I hope the experience will be positive and enjoyable.

And now, I really should be practising……

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?

We got a piano in our house when I was about 6 because it had belonged to my grandfather but he developed arthritis and so didn’t play any more. After that, it was quite hard to get me to stop playing it.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?

The music I play and my teachers Sulamita Aronovsky and Denis Matthews, also the pianists listed below I suppose.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Following the conductor Chris Austin when recording Morgan Hayes’ Slippage for piano and ensemble – there are loads of time signature changes, and fortunately he was very clear and patient with me; memorising Albeniz’s Iberia, playing Sorabji’s 7-hour Sequentia cyclica, playing all of Scriabin’s sonatas in one concert (I did that a few times) …

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

Making sure the conductor doesn’t go to fast and gives me plenty of space to shape phrases

Which recordings are you most proud of?

The first ever CD of music by Alexander Goldenweiser who taught my teacher … some pieces called Dainas by Latvian composer Jānis Mediņš, a disc of music by Felix Blumenfeld, and the live recordings from the Husum Festival (proof that I occasionally actually play OK concerts)

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

In the UK I like the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building in Oxford quite a lot. Recently I turned up in Elizavetgrad in central Ukraine to play Szymanowski (he was born very near there) and got to play on a really nice new and big Bechstein (perfect for this music) in an excellent hall … a nice surprise.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Richter, Delarocha, Feinberg (Samuil), Bolet, Sofronitsky, Petri, Yudina, Enescu

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are a few: first concerts in Moscow Conservatoire, Helsinki Opera House, NYC Kaufman, Montpellier Festival Radio France … and the small places like the Neuhaus Museum in Kirovograd, the Čiurlionis House in Druskininkai where the audience sits in the garden, Goldenweiser’s flat in Moscow on Tverskaya where there were a scary number of pianists in the audience … playing Elgar in the Philarmonia in Kyiv.

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?

Often it’s Russian music of the early 20th century – I like listening to orchestral music, especially if I’ve been playing the piano all day long, but have quite broad taste that includes lots of jazz, soul and Brazilian music as well.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?

Be curious, listen hard and stick to your guns.

What are you working on at the moment?

Radulescu 2nd Sonata, Aperghis A Tombeau ouvert, Rachmaninoff 3rd Concerto, Alkan Concerto for solo piano

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

At home with my family

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Walking in the mountains with my wife and son

What do you enjoy doing most?

Cooking for my family, walking and sleeping

Jonathan Powell is a pianist and composer. After studies with Denis Matthews and Sulamita Aronovsky, he established an international career as a soloist, his programmes ranging from standard Classical and Romantic repertoire to contemporary and little-known 20th century works. He has performed widely in Europe, as well as in Russia and the US; he has also appeared on national radio of many countries and recorded about 20 CDs.

Over the last decade, concert work has taken him to New York, the Musica Nova Festival in Helsinki, the Festival Radio France et Montpellier, Festival de Chaillol (Hautes-Alpes France), the Raritäten der Klaviermusik am Schloss vor Husum, the Reggello Festival (Italy), Vredenburg Muziekcentrum in Utrecht, De Toonzaal in ‘S Hertogenbosch, Gigant in Apeldoorn, and concerts in the Conservatoire and Russian Academy of Music in Moscow, and the Sheremetevsky Palace (St Petersburg), in the Altes Rathaus, Vienna (at the invitation of the Joseph Marx Society) and in masterclass and concert tours of Denmark. In the UK, his concerts have taken him to venues ranging from the Royal Festival Hall to university departments and local town halls.

He has recently appeared in many concert halls in Eastern Europe: since October 2010 he has undertook tours in Slovakia, the Czech Republic (including a residency at the Janacek Academy in Brno), Ukraine, Russia and Lithuania, performing repertoire ranging from John Field and Chopin, to contemporary music.

Powell has worked with many of today’s most prominent composers such as Ambrosini, Finnissy and Staud. As well as giving UK premières of pieces by Sciarrino, Feldman and Salonen, he has commissioned many new works.

Powell is a self-taught composer – he has recorded several of his own works for BBC broadcasts and has received performances by the London Sinfonietta, the Arditti Quartet, Valdine Anderson, Sarah Leonard, Darragh Morgan and Nicolas Hodges among others. His articles on many aspects of Russian music appear in the New Grove Dictionary of Music; his articles have been published by International Piano and the Finnish musicological journal Musiikki-lehti. He recently contributed to a book on the pianist-composer Samuil Feinberg, and co-edited the publication Rimsky-Korsakov and his Heritage.

When I was in the final throes of preparation for my ATCL Diploma in December 2011, my piano teacher gave me some very useful advice. “Try and remember what excited you about the pieces in the first place and what you like about them”. (Here’s what I wrote about the previous programme.) When one is preparing for a big exam, competition or recital/recital series, and one has been living with and working on the same repertoire for a long time (nearly 18 months in the case of some of my pieces), there is a terrible danger of growing bored with the music, or overworking it to such a degree that it starts to go stale. My students find it hard to grasp the concept of “over-practising”, which suggests to me that none of them do enough practising in the first place (!), though a couple have complained of this issue in recent weeks, with their exams coming up very soon. When one goes into the recital room on exam or concert day, it is important to have something extra to give, to add an edge to the pieces and to make them appear fresh, created anew for the audience or adjudicator.

When I was playing to a friend/colleague on Friday, I recalled over and over again, when we were discussing the pieces, why I like each and every one of them, and why, after such a long period getting to know them and immersing myself in their individual characters and intricacies, I still love them.

Bach – Concerto in D minor after Marcello BWV974

I’ve always loved Bach, from the time when I first encountered his music as a young piano student in the Two- and Three-Part Inventions, through the “48” to the Partitas for keyboard and Concerti for solo keyboard.  I was immediately struck by the beautiful serenity of the slow movement of this concerto, bookended by the upright and rhetorical opening movement and the joyous (despite its minor key) dancing Presto final movement. This has been a satisfying and absorbing piece to learn, and the one with which I always begin my practising, almost without fail. I love the way Bach retains some of the orchestral elements of the original concerto by Marcello, particularly in the first movement, and combines these with aspects – ornamentation, texture – which demonstrate the possibilities, both technically and emotionally, of the harpsichord (or piano).  I have written more extensively about this Concerto in a separate post).

Takemitsu – Rain Tree Sketch II

I wanted to include some 20th century music in my programme, for the sake of contrast, and I originally started learning one of Messiaen’s Preludes (the ‘Chant d’extase dans un paysage triste’/Song of Ecstasy in a Sad Landscape), but realised it would be a very long and challenging learning process. When I first heard the Rain Tree Sketches, I fell in love with the Debussyan and Messaienic references, the musical colours and meditative soundscape. I will learn the first Rain Tree Sketch in the near future. More about Takemitsu here.

Mozart – Rondo in A minor K 511

I first came across this late piano work in a concert given by Robert Levin with the OAE in 2007. I love its plaintive melancholy and the way it presents, in microcosm, almost every aspect of Mozart’s music from grand operatic statements and beautiful arias to string quartet articulation and Baroque references. I have been learning this work, on and off, for five years, and each time I come back to it, I find more things in it. It is one of the most difficult pieces I have ever learnt – not the notes which are relatively straightforward, but the shaping and the profound emotional content of this music.

Liszt – Sonetto 104 del Petrarca

I learnt the ‘Sonetto 123’ for my ATCL. It was my first serious foray into Liszt’s music, and I am so glad I took the plunge to start exploring his piano music. The three ‘Petrarch Sonnets’ come from the second year of the Années del pèlerinage (more here), and this is the most virtuosic and dramatic of the three. I felt it was important to have one big romantic work in the programme and I decided to steer clear of the obvious pieces, such as one of Chopin’s Ballades. I love the sweeping romanticism of this piece, its rapid changes of mood, and striking harmonic shifts.

Rachmaninov – Études-Tableaux in E flat and G minor, Op 33

I had never seriously learnt any Rachmaninov until I picked up these pieces. I had an idea that Rachmaninov’s Études were easier than Chopin’s (I was wrong!), and I felt it was better, once again, to steer clear of the more obvious choices such as two of Chopin’s Études, or the Opus 39 Études-Tableaux, which are more well known.. I like the Slavic flavour of these works, in particular the open fifths in the arpeggiated figure in the moody, elegaic G minor Étude-Tableau. (I have written more extensively on these pieces – here)