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Of the many new piano collections reviewed here on Pianodao over the last couple of years, one of the smaller number to make a particular impact within my own teaching studio has been Hans-Günter Heumann’s Fantasy Piano (reviewed here) which has become a firm favourite with early-intermediate players. Pieces such as Rainbow Fairy and The Sunken Island of Atlantis have started to appear in our regular student concerts, and clearly appeal to players and audiences alike.
Heumann has now produced a brand new collection – a sequel, again published by Schott Music, called Mystery Piano. So let’s see how it compares…
Mystery Piano, like its predecessor, appears as a standard format music book with glossy cover (attractively illustrated by Silke Bachmann), with spacious, clean music engraving on cream paper, and a beautifully produced acoustic recording of the pieces presented as a CD in a plastic wallet inside the cover.
While the 20 pieces in Fantasy Piano evoked magic, mythology and fantastical stories, the 20 new pieces here have a more obvious “horror story” element. According to the composer:
“Mystery Piano offers an ideal complement to the popular book Fantasy Piano. This book of pieces includes twenty enigmatic titles leading to mysterious places such as Stonehenge and Machu Pichu. Phenomena as puzzling as Aztec Treasure and as frightening as Dracula’s Castle are interpreted in music to stimulate the imagination.”
Music for Today’s Players
One thing that I have found to be a particular strength of the Fantasy Piano collection has been that the easy contemporary musical style of the pieces so irresistably draws in the younger player – and is often equally enticing to adults, who have rushed to purchase copies after hearing the music performed.
As I wrote in my review of that book:
“In my experience, tapping into players’ imaginations can unlock expressivity and creativity in their performance. These are pieces which I believe players will really engage with. Learning to use dynamic range, rubato, pedalling and so on, is made enjoyable and natural using music that hits just the right spot with players who are still developing their sensitivity to issues of genre and interpretation.”
The same is very definitely true here – news which will undoubtedly relieve those fans who have helped to make Fantasy Piano one of the more popular contemporary collections of the last few years. These are pieces which I believe will fire the imaginations of players every bit as much as the previous book.
The pieces may initially appear repetitive, but this is perhaps the whole point – they are composed in that post-minimal style made so popular by Ludovico Einaudi and many others, their impact bound to their dynamic contour more than to the development of their melodic ideas.
The general ease of the notes and repetition of patterns offer a context in which intermediate players can focus on developing expressivity of playing, while conveying an imaginative story through the arc of a longer composition.
Helping considerably, the CD recordings aren’t just a nice extra to ignore, but must definitely be listened to. I’ll admit that pieces which looked a little unpromising on the page really came to life when hearing the expressive and often dramatic performances given here by concert pianist Samantha Ward.
The best pieces here – and my personal favourites include Mysterious Stonehenge, The Extraterrestrials, Nessie the Water Dragon and Black Holes – are brilliantly imaginative and wonderfully evocative character pieces which seem to me guaranteed to be hugely popular with players at this level.
With the pieces in Fantasy Piano pitched at around Grades 2-4, it would have made some sense for Mystery Piano to dovetail, and be levelled at players of around Grades 3-5, making it an easier recommendation to players who already have the first collection.
That said, I think the pieces in this new collection are just a little harder overall. And in any case, I have no doubt that Mystery Piano will bring hours of piano-playing pleasure, and will not disappoint any who enjoyed Fantasy Piano and make the investment!
For those who haven’t explored Fantasy Piano, which of the two books is now the better recommendation? This is in my view a more tricky question, and one likely to generate subjective answers.
Mystery Piano offers overall more variety of mood and colour, although some of the pieces (even with imaginative interpretation) are just a little too repetitive for my taste. Fantasy Piano meanwhile includes several more lyrical pieces which are already firm favourites. Both books include plenty of highlights suitable for concert performance.
On reflection then, I would advise teachers to investigate both collections, allowing students to choose the one which most resonates with and stimulates their imagination.
Whether as follow-up to Fantasy Piano, or as a collection in its own right, Mystery Piano is a highly useful and superbly imaginative addition to the repertoire for intermediate players, and I warmly commend it to you.
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