Hans-Günter Heumann has been busy. Since I launched Pianodao three years ago I have reviewed his excellent Fantasy Piano and Mystery Piano collections, as well as the 16-book Piano Junior method series.
Then, just a few weeks ago, I reviewed Piano Playground 1, a fresh collection of original pieces, concluding:
“The best pieces here are genuinely great, and will surely enliven the musical development of young players!”
Hot on its heels comes the follow up, Piano Playground 2, so let’s investigate…
This second collection in the series offers ”25 Playful Piano Pieces” and is instantly recognisable as the sequel to the first book:
Although the book itself follows the style of its predecessor, a couple of points are worth noting.
Firstly, while Piano Playground 1 featured 30 brand new pieces, this second instalment includes a mix of new compositions and pieces collected from previous Heumann publications, including Piano Junior 3, Piano Junior 4 Performance, Fantasy Piano, Mystery Piano, Piano Piccolo and Modern Piano. Only 11 of the pieces here are brand new (although this includes several of the highlights).
Secondly, the appearance is brighter on two counts. The cover itself looks even more tremendous with its vivid orange base colour, and the insides are printed on white paper rather than Schott’s more usual cream, as was used for Piano Playground 1. Much as I love the cream paper, I can’t deny that this second volume looks fresh, contemporary and appealing.
Like the first book however, Piano Playground 2 includes no illustrations, teaching tips or information about the pieces, all of which would have been welcome.
The pieces themselves are billed as ”easy to intermediate”, which certainly fits. For the UK student, the book would work well around Grade 1 to 2+ while as “quick study” material it would be great fun for players at around Grade 3.
As with the previous book, pedalling is included in several of the pieces. Ample, well-judged fingering is provided throughout.
Reviewing the first book in the series I commented that:
“One of the qualities of this book which make it a stronger recommendation is the variety of musical style on offer, despite the limited technical difficulty.”
The same is certainly true here, indeed even more so. The few pieces culled from the Fantasy and Mystery Piano collections are in the contemporary minimal style that so appeals to players at present, and in which Heumann excels, while other pieces here include a mixture of character pieces, classical pastiches, and more upbeat jazzy numbers: Cool Jazz Cats and My Horse and Me are both sure to be hits, as is the entertaining Energy Rock!
Another highlight is the Modern Sonatina à la Clementi, whose three movements offer blues, pop ballad and boogie-woogie, while Arabian Fairy Tale is surprisingly evocative, underlining once again Heumann’s expertise as an educational composer who is able to say much with just a few notes. Wave Games and The Great Wall of China are similarly imaginative.
Plate Spinning exemplifies the pedagogic care that the composer has taken to include a range of different techniques; here, balancing the repeated RH chords with the LH melody will be more of a challenge than pupils expect, but certainly an enjoyable and rewarding one.
There are one or two duds perhaps; Mazurka in D minor stands out as a pastiche that wasn’t needed (alas, Heumann doesn’t quite muster the melodic genius of the Tchaikovsky piece he riffs on here!), but there is certainly more than enough excellent material in this collection to keep students, teachers and parents very happy indeed.
It must be difficult for such a prolific writer to continue composing distinctive music without pieces beginning to sound routine. As with Piano Playground 1 there are a few fillers here, but overall Heumann has again turned out a strong collection. Fans of Heumann are sure to love the new pieces, while the publication offers newcomers an enjoyable cross-section of his work.
Given the wide range of moods and styles that Piano Playground 2 encompasses, it is an easy recommendation for younger players who need fresh music to get their teeth into before launching into the more difficult “intermediate” stage of their development.
That the pieces themselves are so varied and attractive ensures that, even in a very crowded market, Piano Playground 2 is a useful and enjoyable addition to the young pianist’s repertoire.