David Rakowski’s one hundred piano études are contemporary classics. Not only do they explore every facet of piano technique, they also include stride piano, rock and roll piano, tango, bebop, playing with the fists, and playing with the nose. They have “redefined pianism for the twenty-first century” and are “the most significant contribution to the piano étude since Ligeti.” Pianists worldwide have championed them, and the World Piano Competition included ten of them in their required American repertory.
To date Bridge Records has released three volumes of them recorded by Amy Briggs, representing the first seventy. She has now recorded the fourth volume of the études, produced by three-time Classical Producer of the Year Grammy winner Judith Sherman, bringing the total recorded for Bridge to ninety-two. This new collection branches out into many new areas of pianism. There is a talking pianist étude, a tantrum of a piece written on a text by novelist Rick Moody; there is an étude on the polka and a prog rock étude; there are mirror études, both very fast and very slow; there is a single-note étude, an echo étude, an étude on the clave rhythm, and a fortissimo étude. Plus, in this collection, the études branch out into multiple keyboard études — pisno and celesta, and piano and toy piano. There is also a berceuse for toy piano alone, or for celesta alone.
Amy Briggs’s performances are fiery and passionate, capturing all the quirkiness of Rakowski’s ideas. She has a deft soft touch for the slow études, and an authentic jazzy feel for the jazzy ones. Her performance of Not, the talking pianist étude, is a real scream, sometimes literally. Her control of four layers of repeated notes, each with independent dynamic swells must be heard to be believed.