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Phillip Keveren has established a formidable reputation as an outstanding arranger with his Phillip Keveren Series, numbering nearly 100 titles published worldwide by Hal Leonard.
Ranging from Gospel music, hymns and worship songs to contemporary popular artists such as Coldplay, Queen and Billy Joel, and with plenty of music from films and stage thrown in, these beautifully presented “Piano Solo” collections offer arrangements suitable for the late intermediate player, while there’s also a selection of “Easy Piano” titles aimed at elementary players.
For 2019, Keveren brings us another seasonal newcomer to the series, Christmas Carols with a Classical Flair, so let’s see whether he has again struck gold…
Although this new addition to the Phillip Keveren Series follows the generic house style for the series to a tee, there is no disguising the particularly seasonal cheer that dominates the gorgeous cover design:
The music within is beautifully and clearly engraved, and I’m particularly impressed to note that helpful pedalling marks have been included throughout, as have useful fingering suggestions. Nor has Keveren scrimped on performing directions: phrasing is included in abundance, as are dynamics and other expression markings.
This is a top-notch score, thoughtfully produced to provide every support to the independent learner and adult piano enthusiast.
The 15 favourites within are:
- Angels from the Realms of Glory
- Angels we have heard on high
- Coventry Carol
- Ding Dong! Merrily on high
- God rest ye merry, gentlemen
- The Huron Carol (’Twas in the moon of wintertime)
- In the bleak midwinter
- It came upon the midnight clear
- Joy to the world
- Let all mortal flesh keep silence
- O come, all ye faithful
- O holy night
- Silent night
- Still, still, still
- We three kings of orient are
This makes for a fairly traditional selection, setting the book apart from some of the more jazzy arrangements that Keveren (and others) have provided elsewhere.
Keveren himself explains in his preface:
“I am a Christmas music aficionado. I own countless holiday CDs and print music books. I look forward to hearing new recordings that come out each season, never tiring of yet another rendition of the carol canon.”
… with a Classical Flair
Keveren goes on to explore the fusion of traditional carols with a classical piano aesthetic:
“Bringing beloved carols together with the “classical” style is a pleasure, and a natural fit. Musical inspiration comes from Bach, Mozart, Fauré, Vaughan Williams, and beyond. In the end, I am more interested in unified piano settings than stylistic purity.”
The most striking aspect of these arrangements, in my view, is Keveren’s sensitivity to the instrument itself, and to the needs of developing players. Unlike lesser arrangements I’ve come across, all of these pieces eminently suit the piano, and even the flashier passages fit nicely under the hands.
It is clear from the very outset that they are arranged by a professional piano and keyboard player, not merely a scribe.
These arrangements essentially offer solo piano explorations of the well-known melodies, but are concert pieces in their own right. In most cases it would be impossible to sing along; attempting to do so would be to miss the point that these arrangements are designed to be wholly instrumental creations, each a complete musical delight in its own right.
The classical influences that infuse each piece are at times subtle, in some cases less so (for example, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear deliciously evokes Satie’s Gymnopedies with its LH figurations; note that this piece and a couple of others use the melodies more familiar to American audiences).
The pieces take up between two to four pages each; none outstays its welcome, Keveren proving a master of taut structure and compositional flow. In terms of difficulty, the collection would suit players at late-intermediate to early-advanced level.
Not being sufficiently familiar with other entries in the Phillip Keveren Series, this book came as something of a surprise. It is truly excellent, and I will certainly now be investigating other titles from the series.
In the meantime, Christmas Carols with a Classical Flair is sure to remain close to my piano until the New Year arrives!
Of all the carol arrangements I’ve yet seen for the more advanced player, this collection most especially serves up truly playable and enjoyable solo piano arrangements of these lovely melodies.
There isn’t a weak number here either; any one of these exceptional pieces will bring festive cheer and musical enjoyment to the coming season, equally at home in Christmas concerts, the hotel lobby, or family gatherings.
Christmas Carols with a Classical Flair is an absolute delight.
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