And now they’ve brought out the Faber Music Christmas Piano Anthology, which proves to be a massive and hugely impressive collection of the best and most popular seasonal tunes, expertly arranged for piano solo at intermediate to advanced level.
There’s been a gap in the market for something like this – it’s never easy to recommend a collection for all ages that covers the most wanted classic and contemporary festive songs. So is this it? Let’s find out …
Rather than copy out the complete list of titles, I’m please to say that Faber Music have agreed to me simply reproducing their contents pages; here’s the full list of pieces included in this substantial anthology:
And there’s more…
Phew! It’s quite a list!
On first impression, you can be forgiven for thinking that this is a bumper sing-along book. But I must quickly disabuse you of that thought, because in fact these are proper solo piano renditions, suitable for lessons, home use, and great for public performance too!
When I unpacked the review copy from its box on arrival, I audibly gasped at its loveliness!
Larger and heavier than I had expected, the book has a gorgeous, high quality thick card cover, with inner fold-over flaps similar to those found on high-end coffee-table books. The artwork bestride front and back cover is a reproduction of Breugel the Elder’s fabulous ’Hunters in the Snow (Winter)’ :
Inside, the book is printed on high-grade white paper, and aside from the contents pages reproduced above, contains music across the whole 216 page publication.
Notation is crystal clear, well spaced and generously sized. Fingering suggestions are included throughout. Most pieces take up between two-to-four pages, but a few arrangements are as long as six.
Each piece title has an accompanying illustration in the styling of a Victorian etching, which further enhances the festive appeal of the presentation. Lovely!
The problem with large anthologies of this kind is that the book itself needs to be sturdy enough to survive repeated battering over many years, but pliant enough to stay open on the music stand. Faber Music’s approach here (as with last year’s hard-bound Faber Music Piano Anthology) perhaps focuses more on endurance than flexibility.
During the review period I have stress-tested the book as best I can, playing pieces from every part of the book, bending back the spine to see if I could break it without the use of power-tools, and generally putting it through some heavy paces. I’m pleased to report that it has proven more than fit for purpose. Inevitably the spine must be creased, but I’ve had no difficulty getting the book to stay open; nor does it show signs of falling apart any time ever!
Having established that the 66 pieces in this collection are (in most cases) fresh solo piano arrangements suitable for concert as well as domestic enjoyment, I was pleased to see that Faber Music have on this occasion credited the arrangers.
Some pieces are individually credited to ace educational composer Pam Wedgwood, while the rest are the work of Oliver Weeks and Lucy Holliday. The book as a whole is edited by Holliday and Rebecca Castell. All have done a superb job!
Playing through a selection of the pieces, I was struck that some (for example Deck the Halls) give a fairly straightforward transcription of the carol (repeated with varying harmony and arrangement), while others offer a far freer and more elaborate reworking of the original melodic material. All through the night, for example, offers a highly decorated reimagining, at times almost a fantasia or original improvised cover.
Fewer liberties are taken with the songs drawn from more contemporary chart sources, while the jazz standards are given treatments that simultaneously meet expectations while being accessible to the pianist who isn’t necessarily a natural “jazzer”.
In terms of difficulty, the nucleus of the material here is around “early advanced” level, about UK Grades 4-7. A few pieces are on the easier end of this spectrum, while some are quite difficult, such as the gloriously arranged Hallelujah Chorus of Handel, which is a full reproduction of the choral score, fugal elements included.
In summary, the book seems to me absolutely perfectly pitched: there is plenty here for seasoned adult pianists to get their teeth into, while the book also serves up a delicious feast of festive favourites for teenagers who have moved beyond the numerous books of easier arrangements on the market.
A lot of the books I review here, once written up, disappear into my music cupboard for future use or reference. Not so The Faber Music Christmas Piano Anthology – this is a book which I anticipate returning to and dipping into daily until January; even for my own personal use I am completely loving it!
To reinforce, I have recommended it to six of my students in the three days since the review copy arrived, which is unprecedented. And I anticipate that many more of my students will be enjoying this book in their lessons, home playing, and at my regular adult piano club for years to come.
What impresses most of all is that all of the arrangements are both pianistic and genuinely musical. As such, and given the scope and scale of the book, The Faber Music Christmas Piano Anthology is not only a stunning success, but fills a unique spot on the music shelf.
This is a book which has significantly raised the bar, instantly establishing itself as the new “must-have” Christmas music book. I predict it will sell like hot cakes (or artisan mince pies?) and it certainly deserves to – it’s absolutely brilliant!
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