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All this emerges progressively as each avenue and stage of musical development is surveyed. There is much perception in the author's consideration of the larger works, such as the Sonata, the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, and the concertos. The analysis is not dense and exhaustive, but we are guided through the important structural details whilst receiving helpful advice on matters of execution and interpretation.

I can best describe this book as a series of masterclasses at which we are, mercifully, not required to put our executant talents under scrutiny. We are given suggestions for performance, lists of other repertoire which might throw contextual light on a particular piece, and, on the accompanying CD, our teacher practices what she preaches in a series of fascinating and revealing examples, cued from the text.

So what is the sum of the parts? For me, a richly enjoyable read, which, given the sometimes highly complex subject-matter, is, in itself, a considerable achievement. The book is also an infectiously enthusiastic piece of musical evangelism, which will surely encourage readers to venture into, or return to the work of a great and unique twentieth century composer. That, too, is to be applauded.

'Bartók and the Piano - A Performer's View' by Barbara Nissman. © 2002 Scarecrow Press
'Bartók and the Piano - A Performer's View' by Barbara Nissman. © 2002 Scarecrow Press

As I indicated earlier, those who seek rigorous academic analysis must continue to wait, but for pianists, skilled, failed and aspiring, this is a gem of a book. I now propose to blow the dust from Mikrokosmos volume 1, open it at the first page and set my sights on the Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm which bring down the curtain on the final volume. Barbara Nissman has inspired me to dream the impossible dream, and I thank her.

Copyright © 18 May 2003 David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK


Bartók and the Piano
A Performer's View

Barbara Nissman

Scarecrow Press, 2002

ISBN 0-8108-4301-3, hardback with CD, 336 pages


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