Barely were the pixels dry on my review of the first three Solo Xtreme books when Books 4-6 landed on my door mat. While the initial books in the series were suitable for Elementary level players, these new additions are for the Intermediate pianist.
My favourable impression and comments about the first three books equally apply to all these. Indeed, the presentation, feel and quality is unchanged, the concept a simple extension of the series. Please therefore consider this review an addendum to the previous one, and once again be sure to read that first.
Like the previous books, each book includes a selection of new compositions which are billed as “X-traordinary and Challenging Piano Pieces”.
The levels covered by Books 4-6 are:
- Book 4: Early Intermediate to Intermediate (ABRSM Grade 3)
- Book 5: Intermediate to Late Intermediate (Grades 4-5)
- Book 6: Late Intermediate to Early Advanced (around Grade 6)
Grade equivalents are necessarily vague, because as with the previous books they are not so much designed to fit snuggly into any particular assessment system, but rather to bust out the player beyond their current level.
What remains to be written, then, is an evaluation of the music in these new collections…
Solo Xtreme Book 4
Building on the musical approach of Solo Xtreme Book 3, Book 4 contains 8 new pieces which are suitable at around Grade 3 level.
The collection includes a pleasing mix of styles and moods, with far more variety than one might expect from a collection of pieces by a single composer.
Opener Mountain Grandeur is a melodic piece which immediately introduces the hand-crossing that proved a recurring “challenge” feature in the previous books, while Lakeside Tranquility and Nocturne are enjoyable slower pieces.
Blues Harmony starts out as a very standard 12-bar blues, but its central section moves away from the clichés of the genre. Kilkenny Jig – in an Irish style – is another highlight, a robust piece with a very catchy tune.
Trieste Tarantella is a dazzling and delightful piece which proves to be an excellent addition to the Tarantella repertoire, when it could so easily have been a tired pastiche.
Best of all, Ragtime Escapade has to be the most riotously enjoyable piano romp I’ve encountered in 2018, a sure-fire hit which will undoubtedly delight students in the coming months!
Solo Xtreme Book 5
Following on from such a consistently strong Book 4, the fifth collection left me just a little disappointed; although it’s fair to say that the core audience will undoubtedly enjoy such flashy pieces as The Expedition, the filmic Legends, and the 007-channelling Intrepid Journey, I personally found some of the pieces here just a little too obvious.
That said, Starry Night is a treasure – a beautifully lyrical interlude which makes lovely use of contemporary-sounding harmonies, underpinning a simple but effective melodic line.
Baseline Boogie is, in terms of Jazz pedagogy, a useful find too, introducing players to one of the great vamp baselines, here juxtaposed with a RH pattern that adds challenge and demands careful practice!
Wonderland in Snow may prove popular at Christmas, with its evocative, playful (and again cinematic) mood, while Winter Solstice brings the collection to a tasteful conclusion.
Solo Xtreme Book 6
No qualms when it comes to Solo Xtreme Book 6, thankfully!
This collection proves a fitting finale to this generally excellent series, with rousing (but easier than they sound!) highlights from the opening Scherzo, through to dramatic closer Tempest.
Between these crowd-pleasers, Lazy Day and Carnivale! hark back to the same showbiz fun as the earlier highlight Ragtime Escpade, while Storia d’amore is a delightful ballad.
The highlight in this collection (for me at least) is Soliloquy, an impassioned take on the new-age popular piano style which here provides a more genuinely expressive challenge amidst the fun provided elsewhere.
With a total of 52 brand new compositions spread across the six volumes of Solo Xtreme it is inevitable that some pieces will stand out and leave a more lasting impression than others.
Overall, the series makes a significant contribution to the educational repertoire, with a succession of winning pieces likely to enthuse learners and delight audiences.
Teachers will want to acquaint themselves with the series right away, hopefully understanding that while contemporary additions to the teaching repertoire shouldn’t replace established pedagogic classics, pieces which are this good clearly have a valuable role in enlarging and enhancing that literature.
Assuming a target audience of older children and teenagers, Solo Xtreme certainly offers an infectious (and largely consistent) musical adventure – and one which I suspect will prove highly motivating.
Melody Bober proves to be an educational composer who can reliably rise above pastiche to offer an enjoyable and at times surprising musical menu.
Hats off to Alfred Music, too: the editing, fingering and presentation are all exemplary here.
In my conclusion to the review of Books 1 – 3, I summed up their attractions as follows:
“Solo Xtreme will undoubtedly appeal to slightly older beginners and pre-to-early teenage children, and perhaps 9 – 14 year-olds in particular. I’m looking forward to introducing these pieces to my own teaching repertoire for boys and girls at around these ages…
Happily, it seems to me that there is a real need for more engaging material suitable for this particular age-group, and I really think that Solo Xtreme hits the spot very nicely indeed!”
Books 4-6 more than confirm this conclusion, turning Solo Xtreme into a still more significant series of music books which deserve the widest uptake.
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