There’s been a bumper number of great new music publications arriving for review in recent weeks, from which I have selected four of the very best to write about:
- The Faber Music Piano Anthology (Faber)
- Barbara Arens: Piano Tranquillo / Vivace (Edition Breitkopf)
- The Piano Playlist (Schott Music)
- My First Chopin (Schott Music)
Faber Music Piano Anthology
Faber Music have launched their deluxe Faber Music Piano Anthology with impeccable timing, with just a few weeks to go until Christmas!
This beautifully produced gift book makes the perfect present for the enthusiastic amateur pianist of intermediate to advanced level.
Quite simply, Faber Music have spared no trouble or expense in ensuring that this large hard-back volume screams “quality” in every department, from the sturdy board covers to the high-grade paper, and from the attractive presentation to the outstanding music engraving. The book even has a tassel bookmark so that you can quickly find the piece you last played.
As an object, The Faber Music Piano Anthology is a thing of splendour! But you may be wondering how well a stiff hard-back volume copes when required to stay flat and open on a piano music rest.
The short answer is: with some difficulty. In fact before I could play from it I needed to vigorously pull the covers back, fully bending the spine to a point where I was concerned it might break. And this process had to be repeated for each piece. I wondered whether the pages might become loose in the process, but as it turned out, the book is so well made that even when subjected to quite rough treatment it was fine. Basically, the book is built to last!
So – what of the content?
The pieces have been carefully selected by classical pianist Melanie Spanswick, who announces in her Foreword:
“I am delighted to present this anthology featuring over 75 original classical piano pieces intended for piano lovers far and wide. Containing a complete mixture of styles, genres and composers, this compilation provides a veritable potpourri of piano music from the sixteenth century up to and including the late twentieth century.
“The volume comprises piano works from Elementary level (around Grade 2 of most worldwide examination boards) to Advanced level (around Grade 8), and reflects the development of piano music over the centuries.”
The selection of pieces is both unpredictable and delightful. To start with, many of the most well-established favourites are included, such as To a Wild Rose, Für Elise, Träumerei and Satie’s Gymnopèdie 1 and Gnossienne 1. There are also some easier pieces in the form of Bach’s ever-green Minuet in G, the Solider’s March from Schumann’s Album for the Young, and several other fairly easy one-page miniatures, which will undoubtedly bring back fond memories for the adult enthusiast.
Best of all in my view, the anthology includes many lesser-known gems, including pieces by Köhler, Dargomyzhsky, Massenet, Franck, Borodin, Ilyinsky, Delibes, Maykapar and Britten. For those unfamiliar with them, these lovely pieces will come as fabulous discoveries, and including them alongside the more familiar favourites is sure to delight players exploring the collection.
You can read the full book contents on the Faber Music site here.
Though drawing on Faber’s extensive catalogue of publications, the music setting here is consistent throughout. Sufficient fingerings are included in most (but not all) of the pieces, which will help the player who is exploring this music on their own, although in some cases I might choose or suggest alternatives to those given.
Overall, this is definitely a collection to cherish! The Faber Music Piano Anthology contains a fabulous variety of great music, beautifully presented. It not only represents a rather wonderful Christmas gift, but will surely stand the test of time to become a treasured source of pleasure and piano-playing enrichment.
A truly outstanding publication!
Further information: Faber Music
ISBN10 – 0-571-53957-2, £22.00
Piano Tranquillo / Vivace (Barbara Arens)
Most composers struggle to attract the interest of a single publisher, so it is notable that in the last year Barbara Arens has been published by three! It is a well-deserved reflection of her growing reputation for writing accessible piano pieces that she is in such demand.
On this site I have already praised her 21 Amazingly Easy Pieces, Piano Misterioso and Rendezvous at Midnight, and next month I will be reviewing her forthcoming Capturing the Spirit of Christmas, co-written with Alison Mathews.
Meanwhile, Piano Tranquillo / Vivace is a sequel to her previous Breitkopf title, the aforementioned Piano Misterioso, and retains the style and look which that collection established. Much of my praise for Piano Misterioso applies equally – if not more so – here.
The novelty here is that Barbara has produced, in effect, two brand new collections of pieces published back-to-back.
The first, Piano Tranquillo, includes “15 Relaxing Pieces”. With titles such as (brilliant pun ahead…) Piano Peace, Dreamy and Time to Relax, the artistic intentions are clear, and I am sure these pieces will quickly appeal.
However, at Page 26 we arrive at the book’s staples, and a blank page containing the stark warning “End of Piano Tranquillo”.
Turn the book upside down, starting from the back, and a second book reveals its considerable charms: Piano Vivace, “15 Sunny Pieces”. Here we find the wonderfully titled Lemon Sherbet Rag, Rush Hour, Off the Wall and 12 others.
While the two-books-in-one concept is undeniably a bit of a gimmick, it is no less an enjoyably charming one.
And while in her previous books Barbara showed great creativity in observing a single idea from many angles, on this occasion the juxtaposition of two moods adds considerably to the value of the publication. Taken as a whole this is an admirably varied album, and I am naturally drawn to the yin-yang aspect of the contrasts it offers.
Barbara explains in her Preface:
“Sometimes my students arrive for their piano lesson and are SO stressed out! School, work, or life in general has left them exhausted, with no energy or will to work on their Beethoven or Kabalevsky. Then we plunge into a calming piano piece – and it works wonders!
But then again we all have days when we’re absolutely bursting with energy and the joy of living – and it’s so invigorating to immerse yourself in a really lively piece! That’s what this rather unusual book is for – to allow you to “chill” or to energize. Both sides begin with very easy pieces and progress in difficulty.”
The “easy” pieces are around UK Grade 1 in standard (and OH! How I would LOVE to see these pieces included in the next syllabus – ABRSM, please take note!) and the hardest pieces are about Grade 3-4 in my view.
Barbara’s comment suggests that these pieces might be used judiciously as quick studies within the lesson rather than as a collection that students work through more systematically – and it’s an idea I find really appealing, and which fits well with my teaching ethos of recognising the place of piano playing within the wider lifestyle of each student.
As with Barbara’s previous collections from Breitkopf, there is a free MP3 download of all the pieces (without purchase) available from the publisher’s website here. So why not have a listen right away?
The book itself lives up to the high standards I praised in my review of Piano Misterioso – this is every bit as classy as one would expect from such a high-end publishing house. And although the currency exchange rate makes it a little pricy in the UK, remember that the book includes 30 brand new, uniformly excellent pieces, which is more than twice the number found in some contemporary collections, making this great value and an enticing proposition.
Overall then, I am hugely impressed with Piano Tranquillo / Vivace and would love to see the concept developed further in future back-to-back publications – what do you think Breitkopf?
Very warmly and highly recommended!
Further information: Edition Breitkopf 8889,
ISMN 979-0-004-18512-4, €17.90
The Piano Playlist
The Piano Playlist is a new anthology of 50 popular classics in easy arrangements by Barrie Carson Turner, published by Schott Music. According to the publishers,
“Taking the concept of the ‘playlist’ from the world of digital streaming, the book presents a carefully chosen selection of the world’s favourite classical pieces for today’s student and amateur musicians.
“Including works from the symphonic, operatic and solo repertoire, this collection will provide hours of enjoyable music making. From the relaxing to the dramatic and the uplifting to the melancholic, there’s music for every mood and occasion.”
I have admired Barrie Carson Turner’s previous arrangements, which include several books in the Schott World Music series, so was interested to see what music he would select here, and how effective his arrangements would prove to be.
In terms of the former there is no shortage of surprises. Jerusalem, the Ride of the Valkyries and the Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th Symphony nestle between the more predictable Morning from Peer Gynt, Blue Danube Waltz and Bach’s Air on the G string.
In terms of the latter, what impresses me about Barrie’s arrangements is his attention to detail. For example in his simplification of Debussy’s Clair de lune he retains the ambiguous 9/8 rhythm for the opening. His careful organisation of the chromatic harmonies of the Romantic works – as well as his attention to piano chord voicings that reflect the original orchestral textures where appropriate – is admirable.
There are a few notable exceptions, where the arrangements seem to wilfully discard their sources. And arrangements will always generate a mixed response from the purists.
But I have to be honest – I really enjoyed playing through the whole book, in spite of any minor reservations about the treatment of a few pieces along the way!
My only real concern is that the cover states that the pieces are suitable for Grades 1-4, a claim I feel is misleading. I’m struggling to identify anything within The Piano Playlist which is much below Grade 3, bearing in mind key signatures, hand span, inner texture and general complexity.
In this regard it’s worth mentioning that many pieces require at least an octave stretch, sometimes with additional harmony notes. Legato pedalling is also needed for satisfactory musical results in most pieces, although no pedalling indications are given. Similarly, no fingering suggestions are included at all, even though these would surely be welcomed by enthusiastic amateur players reading through the pieces on their own. Overall, I would say that the pieces are actually most suitable for players between around Grades 3 to 6.
That said, I really must stress that I think this book is a real delight, and for enthusiastic adult players in particular it would make another great Christmas present! For children who have enjoyed the ABRSM Piano Mix books of easy arrangements, The Piano Playlist would provide a perfect follow up.
And at £10.99 this is really excellent value, and another firm recommendation!
Further information: Schott Music ED13860,
ISMN 979-0-2201-3697-9, £10.99
My First Chopin
Earlier in the year I reviewed Schott Music’s My First Schumann and My First Beethoven, in both cases concluding that they make an excellent introduction to the composers’ music. Now they are joined by series newcomer My First Chopin, with pieces once again selected and edited by Wilhelm Ohmen.
As with previous issues in this growing series, the presentation is gorgeous, with a lavish cover illustration of a slightly shifty Chopin surrounded by doting female admirers, a biographical note with performing suggestions, and a superb selection of newly edited and beautifully engraved works.
However, if the cover leads you to expect simplified arrangements, accessible to players in their early years of learning, think again. These are the real originals, and as such are only suitable for intermediate to advanced players.
The selection includes five of the Preludes (E minor, B minor, A major, C minor and the ubiquitous D flat major “Raindrop”), four Waltzes, seven Mazurkas, two Nocturnes and the Marche funèbre from the B flat minor Piano Sonata. The full contents is listed on the publisher’s site.
This is a wonderful publication, extending a series for which I already have an affection, and I can recommend it almost without reservation…
However, I realise that some might be troubled by the apparent disparity between content and cover, which is more noticeable here than in the previous books. The level of the pieces is between Grade 5 and 8, the tone of the introduction apparently written with adults and teens in mind, and yet the cover and title seem aimed at younger children. As I said in the previous review,
“…a particular attraction of the collection that it is child-friendly without being childish…”
While this still rings true, it will be interesting to see how well the market takes to this new anthology. I very much hope it does well, as I genuinely love the series, and feel it helps meet a particular need for established core repertoire to be presented in an eye-catching, modern and accessible way.
And while there remains a gap in the market for a collection of tastefully simplified arrangements, this is certainly one of the best introductions to Chopin’s extraordinary oeuvre that I have yet come across!
Further information: Schott Music ED22459,
ISBN 978-3-7957-0981-5, £9.50