Having scribbled all over my copy as I've played, here are some thoughts...
Bearing in mind that 'A' section usually demands well-defined passagework, coordination between the hands and control of ornaments, amongst other things, I can see why Weber's Waltz in A for A3 is there. What needs to be addressed first is the difference in phrasing between the hands - long legato phrases in the right hand and a broken chord accompaniment. I don't like the left hand fingering in bar 5, so would change that to 52121; we just need to ensure that the thumb remains light, so lean more towards the little finger. There's a tricky moment in bar 20 where the second finger is indicated at the end of a descending arpeggiation - I think the left hand thumb could take as part of the chord instead. The extended ternary structure offers a very grand, military Trio by contrast to the classical style of the first waltz. When studying this, it might be an idea to discuss military band instruments, e.g. snare drums, to articulate the ascending embellishments with appropriate attack. The contrasting staccato and accent marks should be observed well. Not my favourite in this section.
A1 Purcell's Prelude has competition in the A4 Bach choice, but if you are a lover of Bach's inventions, then this one from the selected pieces will do nicely. The contrapuntal, imitative texture contrasts legato scale passages with light and crisp quaver/semiquaver figures. The ornamentation calls for neat fingerwork. The subject and its entries are very easy to spot - so mark these in first. There's a lovely dominant pedal moment at bar 16 before the subject returns in the left hand; the addition of some thirds in the right hand can be accentuated dynamically - in fact as dynamics are editorial, they are worth exploring and making one's own throughout the piece - but remember this is Baroque style and not Romantic! The real 'fun' in terms of challenge begins at bar 26, with imitations, suspensions and fingering - bar 30's a bit scary. This entire section should be dissected slowly, practising each voice. If it helps, we will write in the starting note for the ornaments above the staves when they appear. The last few bars from bar 33 can build gradually to a very grand conclusion with a tiny bit of ritardando. Apart from the Bach prelude, which I might suggest to one or two, this is my favourite in A section.
Carlos de Seixas is not a composer I am familiar with, but the editor's notes suggest how the piece can be approached - 'alla Scarlatti' in binary form. It is a bit similar to A1 in that the stepwise movement can be smooth, with interval jumps being more detached. Note there are no dynamic markings, so that means the player can explore dynamic shading according to the melodic phrasing/where there are echoes, as in right hand bars 3 and 4, for example. I would allow the tone to grow in warmth rather than loudness in the left hand in bars 11 and 12, with a strong finish called for at the end of the first section. I would start the end of bar 14 quieter and shade the dancing bars 17 and 18 similar to bars 11 and 12. We should invite students to experiment and listen before deciding on final performance dynamics. Watch out for the accidentals in the second section and ensure that the demisemiquavers are all neat and lightly executed. Have to say this one is growing on me, and yet another new composer!
When it comes to B section, we can expect pieces that challenge us to use the piano in its most expressive ways - phrase shaping, use of the pedal, rubato and tonal shading amongst other techniques. So what an opportunity with a short and sweet piece by Chopin. B1 Sostenuto in E flat is like a waltz, so his style is immediately recognisable. I attended a conference at Chetham's School of Music in Manchester recently, and one of the presentations was by Roy Howat, expert interpreter of Chopin's works and who at the time of writing is preparing a new edition for Peters. What he had to say about different editor's interpretations of Chopin's manuscripts, or how engravers made mistakes when producing first editions was very interesting, particularly about where phrases begin and end, and the positioning of dynamic markings. For example, in the AB edition, the phrasing marks provide opportunities for discussion with the student. Why does the long phrase mark end at the end of bar 8 and not just before the B flat on the quaver of beat 2 in that bar? I would point out the three upbeat quavers in the left hand melody in bar 21 in contrast - makes you think... Regardless of differences of opinion about phrasing, a cantabile tone is vital in this piece, so practise the right hand melody separately and sing with it, marking in where we breathe with the music, where rubato can be applied, and where natural rise and fall can occur in the dynamics. As this is in the style of a waltz, it does need to have a sense of moving on, around the dance floor as it were. (Contrast this with the next piece in section B!) Wherever a G appears at the beginning of a bar, this shouldn't be accented heavily - bars 3 and 9; the sensitive 4th finger falls naturally on these. Obviously the singing melody needs to come across more clearly in the second part, but notice too that bars 17/18 and 22/23 have another voice in the right hand over the chord accompaniment - important to place more weight on the weaker fingers here. Students with a natural feel for rubato and legato lines will do well with this one.
B2 and we have another dance, this time a lively Tarantella by Maykapar. This one doesn't let up, twirling and whirling around - one for the extroverts? 6/8 is a fun time signature, and the way in which the quavers pick up again frequently on the second beat of the bar gives this piece its forward momentum. Discuss with pupils the differences in articulation straight away and practise these slowly until internalised, then build up to the required pace. In twirling right hand legato passages, the keys need to be close to fingertips, and only light touches of pedal should accompany where indicated alongside the left hand staccato chords; more emphasis can be given where there are dotted minims. Bar 32 onwards is particularly exciting, with the chromatic passages and louder dynamics. Tarantellas tend to build up to exciting finishes - this one seems to be like a spinning top disappearing away into the distance before the triumphant last raising of the dancer's arms.
What a pleasant surprise to find some Vaughan Williams in this syllabus. B3 Slow Air is my preferred piece in this section; it would contrast very well with either A1/2/4/6. It has the unmistakeable beauty of VW's modal style and movement in the intervals. It's a good reason to do some listening to hiss orchestral works in the lesson if the student isn't familiar with them, then the falling harmonies in bars 7 and 8 will stand out for them, for example. It's also worth just looking through this piece away from the keyboard and noticing the textures - given a starting note, can the student hum the different parts? Which ones want out come out more than others? They must have their moment in glory. Expressive detail should be noted in this piece - the cantando and smorzando markings are insistent - put rings round them all. Pedalling demands will become clear as the student gets to know the piece and should be marked in too. Articulation and phrasing are equally exacting.There's a wealth of tonal shading and dynamic nuance in the piece too. The ending is just glorious, so the student should enjoy holding the moment - let the examiner wait, if they haven't already closed their eyes and been transported off...
Together with the old favourite Gedike Miniature and the Grieg Waltz in E minor, there are plenty of good choices. Study these pieces for the fun of it. This is no less wonderful music just because it's in an exam syllabus book...
C1 Staccato Beans by Tan Dun combines quite a lot of the above. Based in Chinese folk tradition, what stands out first and foremost is the constant bounciness and reliance on neat articulation between the hands - see where legato contrasts with staccato, or accents with tenuto marks. There's a lot of detail to bring this piece to life so talking through all the different articulation devices is a must. Counting will be no problem - 1+2+ - but this should be maintained during the trickier chord passage, e.g. bars 35 - 43 and towards the 'wow' factor conclusion, where your pupil might emulate Lang Lang in the crossing of hands! There has to be neat finger energy for the staccatos and the wrist should be relaxed and bouncy so that the jumping beans are painted in sound. Dynamic detail is interesting - I've noted that p/pp passages appear suddenly whereas crescendos are built in purposely; nowhere does it tell you to diminuendo, as if the explosive ending is implied and worked towards throughout the piece. Great fun.
Shostakovich loves harmonic shifts and melodies built on inverting triads, as well as the quintessential Russian stepwise moves. C2 Gavotte showcases all these ingredients. It's a story about dolls dancing, so imagining how they are likely to move and what's going on inside the nursery is important. The jerkiness of the dolls' movements can also be conveyed by counting two in a bar rather than four. Articulation, again, is demanding in this piece: couplets, staccatos, accents - these present further challenges when the melody moves into thirds. Some rotation in the right wrist is called for here to transfer the weight effectively and articulate the rocking quaver/crotchet groups. The left hand has some tricky leaps to execute in bars 17 to 22 - perhaps practising these as much as possible without looking down will be beneficial - it will certainly provide some fun. The harmonic shift into D flat then into G is a lovely section, with some downward couplets to make much of. After the double bar line at bar 32, with yet more harmonic shifts, it's clear that the left hand grace note should be played just before the first beat and these longer notes held for their full value in contrast to the lighter crotchet and quaver motifs. It has a sweet conclusion.
If C1 is folksy, and C2 is quirky, then C3 is the jazzy one. Cool by Stephen Wood really is cool, as long as your student has a feel for swung rhythms; the syncopations can catch the player by surprise. If it doesn't seem instinctive, then each bar needs to be separated into quavers at first and the accented off-beats tapped out in teacher/pupil rhythm duets. It really mustn't sound as if the pulse and rhythm are being laboured, and not all students find this easy. Once rhythms patterns have been internalised, look at the interplay between the chords and the melodic phrases - how they talk to each other - and try these in duet mode too. It's best to imagine a jazz group with the instruments taking turns at leading a conversation - perhaps the piano has the chords and a clarinet or saxophone has the lingering smooth lines? The drummer is 'brushing' the pulse and swung quavers in the background. Once we get onto the back page (scan this to avoid the turn?) beware of the left hand fifths in bars 39 and 40 - these two bars are challenging rhythmically. Note how we must revert to straight quavers towards the end. The chords are gorgeous here and the way in which the bell-like melody disappears can be enhanced by a touch more pedal than you might otherwise in the piece. Editorial notes on pedalling are very precise and helpful.
So, lots to get our teeth into for ABRSM Grade 5. I'm looking forward to working through these with pupils!