Teachers, and occasionally students, can sometimes be a little cautious when it comes to collections of music by only one composer. We think of anthologies and compilations containing works by a wide selection of composers as far more versatile, better value, and more appealing to students and parents. I can understand and empathise this view (although it doesn’t seem to be a problem with Bach, Beethoven, Mozart etc.), but just occasionally, a one-composer collection comes along which still ticks all the boxes. We’ve seen this recently with Graded Gillock, and also with Angeline Bell’s three volumes, My Lyrical Notebook, My Quirky Notebook, and My Garden Notebook. The music of Naoko Ikeda, edited by Andrew Eales into The Graded Collection, will most certainly join these.
If I’m honest, quite a lot of the stuff I’m sent for review is fairly mediocre to put it kindly, so when a collection like this comes along, it brings me a good deal of joy. The name Naoko Ikeda is new to me, and probably to you too, yet she has over a dozen collections of piano music already in print. This collection, with pieces grouped into Grades 2, 3 4 and 5, brings together 24 representative works, edited by Andrew Eales. Ikeda writes in a wide variety of styles, clearly influenced by the the music of the Far East, yet never in a clichéd way. This graded collection is a real treasure trove of music which I know pianists, teachers and students will derive huge amounts of pleasure from.
I really like the way these pieces have been divided into four sections covering Grades 2-5, and whilst this is always hard, it gives a clear idea of the progression through the book. One of the things I found especially attractive, was that the easier pieces were not automatically short. This can often be a problem for early-stage students who wish to perform in a concert or festival, and where the suitable pieces are mainly restricted to page or less. The first piece in the book, ‘Raft of Flowers’ runs to three pages, offering something deeply satisfying to Grade 2-level players. I find that students can often find the jump between grades harder because the pieces are simply longer.
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There are so many beautiful pieces in this collection it seems almost unfair to single any out. I very much enjoyed ‘The Sparkling Night Sky’ in the Grade 3 section, and also ‘Sakura’. Both are incredibly effective performance pieces. ‘A Sea of Clouds’ in the Grade 4 section, along with ‘Moonlight Rose’ fall into the same category. Naoko Ikeda’s versatility is shown clearly in pieces such as ‘You’, a ballad, and the jazzy ‘Manhattan Swing’. Andrew has penned a short editor’s note for each piece highlighting any particular musical or technical points of note, and these are very useful.
One thing I noticed about all the pieces in this collection, was that effective pedalling is particularly important to really do justice to the music. The pedalling is very clearly marked, but any student attempting these pieces would really benefit from some preparatory work using the sustain pedal. These pieces will be all the more rewarding for it, and will extend that preparatory work only further.
Overall, this is a most beautiful collection of pieces by a composer who should be far better-known. They have been carefully selected, presenting a cross-section of her work which will appeal to all ages, including adults. This collection reminded me that just because we progress to learning harder pieces, we should always enjoy going back to playing easier pieces. There is so much satisfaction to be found in simply playing, teasing out every ounce of expression and musicality. I think this outstanding collection should be on the shelves of students and teachers everywhere. It’s fantastic value, and the music will not disappoint. Highly recommended without hesitation.
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Naoko Ikeda, The Graded Collection is edited by Andrew Eales, and published by The Willis Music Company, ISBN 9781705191989, RRP £14.99.
I was sent a review copy of this book free of charge; however, this review is my honest opinion as a teacher. You can find my Reviews Policy here.
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