How do we define “virtuosity” in a musical performance? I believe that when one hears it, it is as if one’s level of consciousness had been raised, and that it is impossible to ever think of the piano in the same way again. Such experiences are highly personal, revelatory, memorable and almost impossible to describe.

A true virtuoso “must call up scent and blossom, and breathe the breath of life” – Franz Liszt

It is during a performance by a true virtuoso pianist that we, the audience, enter a state of wonder, from which we emerge speechless, hardly able to put into words what we have just heard because the experience of the performance has awakened in us what it means to be a sentient, thinking, feeling, living, breathing human being.

I hope this selection will demonstrate some of the very special qualities of each pianist chosen.

Listen to the playlist


First published in 2007 ‘The Rest Is Noise’ by Alex Ross, music critic of the ‘New Yorker’, charts twentieth century Western classical music from the dying embers of “fin de siecle” Europe and the years prior to the devastation of the First World War to the present day. In many ways, the book is less a history of classical music than a history of the twentieth century as told through its remarkable, often shocking and epoch-making music.

Playlist curated by Frances Wilson.

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(This playlist is not available in the US and Canada)

The piano study or ‘Étude’ has long engaged and challenged pianists, and the practice of writing Études to provide material for perfecting a particular pianistic technique, such as playing octaves or rapid scalic passages, developed in the early 19th century alongside the growing popularity of the piano.

Playlist curated by Frances Wilson.

Listen to the playlist

Launched in August 2015, IDAGIO is a music streaming platform where musicians can share their recordings and connect with a growing global classical community.

I’ve recently joined the IDAGIO team as a creator/curator of playlists, compiled from their archive of both new and vintage recordings. My first playlist for IDAGIO explores the ‘Nocturne’ – music evocative of the evening and night-time, generally calm, mellifluous, expressive and rather languid in character, perfect for evening or late-night listening.

Listen to the playlist

Read more about IDAGIO here


Spotify is a music streaming service, offering content from a vast range of mainstream and independent record labels and artists. Music can be browsed by artist, album, record label, genre or playlist as well as by direct searches.

Until fairly recently, I thought the Spotify catalogue only contained pop music and jazz, and therefore of almost no interest to me: I was wrong. Spotify has a vast and wonderful archive of classical music, by mainstream artists and lesser-knowns (and even some real oddities!). There are the latest albums by the artists “du jour”, there are “classics” and “standards”, and there are some fantastic archive recordings of great performers of yesteryear, including Horowitz, Heifertz, Wilhelm Kempf (I love his Liszt ‘Legendes’), Gilels, Gould, Lipatti and many more…. There is a whole album of Rachmaninov playing his own music, including the E flat Etude-Tableau I have (possibly foolishly) included in my LTCL programme, and taken at such a lick by its composer, it is over almost before it has begun.

Purists and lovers of vinyl and cassette tapes bemoan the fact that we can’t make “mix tapes” like we used to. Wrong. With services like Spotify, you can create your own personal playlists and “mixes” and share them, so that others may enjoy them too. You can subscribe to other people’s playlists, and even see what your friends on Facebook are listening to – in real time (and you might be surprised by some of their choices!). You can share tracks to Facebook and Twitter, email a track to a friend, and waste hours of your precious time (when you should be practising) browsing the vast catalogue. And all for £9.99 per month. (There is a free service, but your listening is frequently interrupted by adverts.)

I really started to fully utilise Spotify when I began my reviewing for Bachtrack. I tend to like to know what I’m going to hear in advance, so I’ll make a playlist of the programme to familiarise myself with the music, and sometimes I might listen to a recording of the performer I’m going to hear. I have two ever-lengthening playlists called Stuff I Like 1 (Classical) and Stuff I like 2 (Other) where I save tracks that interest me. When I was devising the programme for my LTCL Diploma, I created four different playlists of the pieces so that I can tinker with the programme order and listen to the complete programme to see if the ordering worked or not. When the programme was finalised, I sent a link to the playlist to my page turner so that he could acquaint himself with the pieces ahead of our rehearsals.

My latest playlist is called New Repertoire Ideas and contains tracks of pieces I would like to tackle after I’ve taken my Diploma in April. It’s a way of reminding myself of the music, while also giving me the opportunity to familiarise myself with it before I have even laid eyes on the score. And as regular readers of this blog will know, I often include links to tracks on Spotify so that readers can hear the music being discussed.

Recently, while reviewing a new CD of Brahms’ sonatas for violin and piano, I was able to do some “comparative listening”, to check out the competition, or the “standards” against which certain pieces are benchmarked. It was really interesting to compare different performers’ approaches to the same works, something I could do without having to load-eject-load-eject a stack of CDs. (Damian Thompson of The Spectator has written a very positive review of this particularly useful and enjoyable aspect of Spotify – read his article here.)

Spotify has a use in my teaching studio too: I can compile playlists for students, to enable them to “listen around” the music they are studying, or offer examples of one composer’s output. For example, while teaching Beethoven’s Rondo in F (Trinity Guildhall Grade 4), I have directed those students who are studying this piece to Beethoven’s ‘Rondo A Capriccio’, the famous ‘Rage Over a Lost Penny’ as a way of introducing them to Rondo form. Or for those who are working on the witty Fanfare for the Common Cold (Trinity Guildhall Grade 2), a link to hear Aaron Copland’s iconic Fanfare for the Common Man, which inspired this quirky piece. In lessons, I often want students to listen to music, and it’s quick and easy to plug my iPhone into the speakers in my piano studio, and call up a few tracks on Spotify. And of course the kids love it because they are all so techno-clued up these days……

Spotify has surpassed iTunes as my music app of choice – because I can set a playlist to be available offline and enjoy listening to it even when I don’t have access to WiFi. One of my recent and best discoveries on Spotify is a series of albums called Rarities of Piano Music, which a friend and colleague of mine flagged up. These live recordings from the annual Husum Festival of Rare Piano Music are fascinating, offering some little-known but no less wonderful piano works, a number of which have migrated onto my New Repertoire Ideas playlist. Here’s a handful of my particular favourites:

Ferruccio Busoni – Astrologo op. 33 No. 5 – Live

Cyril Scott – Lotus Land op. 47 No. 1 – Live

William Baines – “Tides”: Goodnight To Flamboro

Jean-Baptiste Lully – Sarabande in E Minor

Francisco Tárrega – Recuerdos de la alhambra

My Stuff I like 1 (classical) playlist

Spotify is available on PC, Mac, iPhone, iPod and other smart phones and similar devices, and synchronises across your devices. Clever huh? Go on, give it a try and open up a whole new world of music and listening……

Details of this year’s Rarities of Piano Festival in Husum here