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The Piano Playlist is an anthology of 50 popular classics in easy solo piano 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 included a short review of this when it first appeared, but having now used it successfully with adult students I am pleased to offer a more detailed look and recommendation …
The Piano Playlist is a high quality production, with an attractive glossy cover, staple binding that opens and sits nicely on the music stand, and clear printing on cream paper. Being brand new arrangements (unlike some compilations), the engraving and editorial values are consistent throughout the collection – and are excellent.
The book appears within a series that also includes The Flute Playlist, The Violin Playlist and The Cello Playlist, all of which also share a visual consistency, making a highly attractive series, all with Barrie Carson Turner as editor.
I have admired Barrie Carson Turner’s previous collections of 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. Replacing the tritone diabolus in musica intervals from the opening of Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre with perfect fifths, for example, seems to miss the point. 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 perhaps a little misleading.
I’m struggling to identify anything within The Piano Playlist which is 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 – and it is players at this level to whom I am warmly recommending the publication.
I really must stress, however, that I think this book is a real delight. For enthusiastic adult players in particular it would be a great purchase or gift.
My students are enjoying dipping in, and given the quantity and quality of material included I suspect they are likely to continue exploring its treasures for many moons to come!
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