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'Miniatures for Piano' - Out Today

I have worked with the woodwind extraordinaire Michael A. Grant several times over the past couple of years, yet even two years ago (approx.) when he first approached me asking if I could record a suite of his own piano compositions, I was surprised. Not because I didn't know he was already an outstanding musician, but because even then I didn't realise that the piano was yet another string to his bow (although, to my knowledge, bows aren't a talent of his that have cropped up yet!)


'Miniatures for Piano' is exactly what it says on the metaphorical 'tin' (the cover) - a suite of short piano compositions (12) that draw influences from far and wide. It was a joy to perform them and despite piano not necessarily being Michael's main instrument, the compositional technique often shows extreme sophistication and it was a joy to play, learn, develop and eventually record. And today - World Piano Day 2023, no less - it is finally released to the world;




The Pieces


There is something for everyone and for every standard across the 12 pieces, and the range of influences is evident.


Compost Frog



I wouldn't expect anything less of a title from Michael, but it suits so perfectly with its hopping around. 'Compost Frog' is exciting to play with it's almost entire use of the piano's full range and 100% one-note-at-a-time approach to composition.



Vision of Triumph



Taking a piece that can be considered musically 'grandiose' is tough for piano alone. 'Vision of Triumph' should really be a fully orchestrated piece, with its opening and closing movements (based around one another's main chordal based theme) putting you in mind of the like of Tchaikovsky's 1812. Yet it startlingly contrasts in both texture and dynamic between these, creating a whole journey rather than a specifically designated fanfare or other form of celebratory composition.



Affetuoso



'Affetuoso' starts as a beautifully simple piece, with a typical 3/4 time not dissimilar to a waltz (though not so punctuating of its 3rd beat) which develops into a more pleasing rendition of itself with flawless key change before just getting that little bit more experimental. Its middle section is such an unusual contrast, being unsure of its minor or purely atonal tonality, yet it very satisfyingly resolves back into the original theme twice - broken up by some beautiful piano musings based around yet another new minor key. The continual change of key keeps this piece interesting, yet its official marking of key signature change only once lulls into a false sense of security for the first time performer.



Cascades



It's very daring to create a full piece of music by merely using very rapid arpeggiation of pure chords, however when the chords in question are so unpredictable and the dynamic and tempo are recognised then the result is quite striking.






Lullaby



I was always quite a fan of this one, and not because it is necessarily relaxing in the way that you might associate with a typical lullaby such as the famous one by Brahms. There is a certain mystery within this particular one - it's very pleasant yet there is just something in there to create a little less pure relaxation and a tad more trepidation that works so well.



Obfuscation



I believe that this one was my favourite whilst I was working through them. It put me in mind of some of the classical greats with its technique of alternating broken chords between hands yet creating melody using the 'leftover' fingers of the right hand to play above this, creating a singing melody and a constant drive. There is really no trickery with this one - once it begins you know what you are in for. It continues to move in a similar motion right through to the end, but that's OK when it's a piece you enjoy playing and listening to!



The Longest Night



This was the first piece that Michael sent to me and I have a very soft spot. Beautifully simple to sight read, but allowing for much interpretation. I feel it works as well with full drive behind it as it does stripped back and completely rubato (the latter being more how my video below recognises it). One thing I particularly love about this piece is that - for all it is a hauntingly beautiful piece throughout - it gives no warning as to its final few bars, the contrast to the following piece I find to be startling;






The Prayer



This is the piece of which the contrast from the end of 'The Longest Night' is so dramatic. 'The Prayer' is such a beautiful piece of music. Formed entirely of full, pure chords and lasting but one page of printed music, its switch between tonality is remarkably powerful, with the purity of its Db chord that starts each phrase being replaced approximately halfway through - and only once - by a C# minor chord. Harmonically they are the same chord, but they are marked differently in keeping with the piece being scored in C major. This is only due to its strict atonality. Despite every chord being absolutely pure major or minor, it covers too many different ones that it could be fitted any particular key signature.



Breaking Outwards



The second piece in the suite that is based around arpeggiation, although this time it is not so rapid as in 'Cascades' that fingers are left in the right hand to allow more ringing out of notes to create a melody above (similarly to 'Obfuscation', but using more pure arpeggiation in 12/8 this time). As ever, its continual use of accidentals and naturals creates a completely unpredictable piece.



Empty Walls



Sometimes the piano composer can be tempted to second the left hand - quite literally - and forget to allow it to do anything interesting. 'Empty Walls' is the piece that really allows the left hand to talk. Sure, the right hand still carries the very basic melody (one note / one chord semibreves) whereby some splayed arpeggiation of chords 'with a twist' are really what drive the piece.



Springs



I feel like every good composer should have a march in their repertoire, and here is Michael's contribution. Yet another piece that almost seems to 'out-grand' the piano, this piece would work phenomenally well with a brass band (or even an orchestra with full brass section!). Yet here we are, performing it on the piano. It's rhythm is strictly a little 'off sync' for a true march, but it is definitely one with the correct type of movement.



Parting Waves



I seem to recall that this final piece went through numerous titles - mainly 'Goodbye' and several different European translations of the phrase. However 'Parting Waves' is a lovely title to finish with. And the music is also lovely. A nice, simple piano piece that - of all of them - would be a lovely beginner piece for a pianist (although the left hand does demand quite a stretch - not a problem for me, but for many it may put them off!). Still, it is a beautiful piece to round off a wonderfully varied suite of music.



How To Get A Copy



This suite is available to download as MP3 or purchase on CD.


You can purchase it from Michael's website here, or alternatively from Bandcamp here.


See also: My own suite of piano music ALSO released today: 'Twelve New Chapters'.


 

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