Mozart's incredible talent and place on the music tour from an early age is well known. Hummel was a friend and co-patriot who also had considerable talent at an early age and was also encouraged into the spotlight by his father. His Tempo di Menuetto transports us back to the time when both of them would have been entertaining the wealthy salons of Europe. It definitely has a 'one-in-a-bar' feel. The fingering patterns for the thirds demand lots of separate hand practice and a touch of pedal as the appoggiatura is approached will also support the legato at this point. I would encourage pupils to practise this piece with the repeats, then the approach from one subject to another can be felt and experimented with. Although the minuet is repeated before the coda, I like to think there should be some nuance to add variety! After the daintiness of the minuet, the Trio has a much more surprising, jaunty feel to it. The V7 staccato chords demand control with a relaxed wrist and precise fingertip work so they are accented lightly, not unduly forced - love those second inversions! Note the tied C in bars 22 to 23 with legato crotchets beneath - easily missed amidst the excitement of getting the descending quaver couplets just right! Careful practice is required in the following bars so that the legato quaver figures are approached on time and as delicately as possible. The Coda is almost like a cheeky 'afterthought'.
The first section of A2, La Lutine, has to be repeated for the exam. This suggests that there should be a further element of sprightliness the second time around! The different articulation for the quavers stands out for close attention, as do the deft semiquaver runs. There's a lovely semiquaver passage to 'grow through' from bar 13. Imagine this played on a period instrument and I'm sure it would be quite fast. As long as the pulse/rhythms and the turn in bar 21 aren't compromised, why not? The mischief would be conveyed even more.
A3, Bourree, is another dance that demands strict time, although approaching the end it could be argued that a slight rit. is in order just before the chord. I would talk to my pupils about what I call 'stressed skipping' for such a piece - really important to feel the two-in-a-bar and accentuates the lovely staccato crotchet and minim figures at bars 5 and 6 particularly well. Careful listening will ensure that the minims are heard for their required length. There's a lot of scope for exploring how different parts of the finger create different tones in this piece. For example, more tips of the fingers for the staccato crotchets and more of the 'fleshier' pads for the non-legato crotchets and legato quaver runs. The notes say that all slurs, staccatos and dynamics are editorial suggestions only, so some research into 18th century French dancing might help to create a successfully 'individual' outcome, as long as the requirements of Baroque style are observed.
Estevez, Lullaby for a Doll, speaks to me of a child singing and humming as the doll is rocked to sleep. It starts in a deceptively simple way with a repeated melody which 'rocks' to and fro itself. By the mid-point, however, the harmonies become richer and more chromatic, and articulating the left hand chords becomes the major challenge. Hanon five-finger exercises for independent strength and scales in thirds come into their own here; hopefully fingers go down precisely together. Practising left hand chords in paired bars with the pedal, say 9/10 then 10/11 and similarly, might be a good strategy - no blurring, just the warmth and tenderness that the piece deserves. It becomes increasingly reflective and almost conversational. At bar 13, one can almost imagine the child asking whether the dolly is asleep yet? No, says the pause, so a bit more rocking needed, with the melody an octave higher and even quieter. As the supporting harmonies become richer and quieter towards the end, so must the control be, with just the right amount of arm weight to allow the fingers to sink into the key 'bed' as the doll falls asleep. The harmony of the penultimate chord is a surprise! Love this one.
Rybicki's Pleasant Meadow at B2, is a folk-song with some chromatic twists and plenty of features to demand close attention to detail. There are some sudden changes in dynamics to be negotiated effectively, without unduly forcing the tone in the forte passages. While the opening is a bold statement of the theme, the last eight bars, by contrast, must be judged well so that the diminuendo is evenly executed. Note that the final statement of the theme is not staccato, in contrast to the opening - slightly flatter fingers for these quavers, then. Also, there are tied notes and longer notes within the texture to be held for their full value - careful listening is needed in these bars. From bar 21 there's a lovely moment of conversation between the hands and a descending quaver sequence in the left hand. An idyllic country scene that is steadily growing on me...
C1 Indian Pony Race. One of my favourite maxims is "Slow practice = Fast progress" and if it's needed anywhere, it's certainly here. This is going to be an enjoyable ride once the twists and turns are mastered. The dynamics hint at the excitement as one rider outsmarts another. Keep a relaxed wrist for the staccatos while keeping a tight hold of the fingerwork reins... this is another piece where story-writing would be helpful (see image). What might be happening at bar 6? bars 11 to 18? Rather like the Kabalevsky at Grade 5 2013-2014, this is one that the extrovert pupils will love.
Decision time... If I were taking this exam from the selection, which pieces would I choose? I would probably go for A3 Bourree, B1 Lullaby and C2 In the Shed - a varied menu!