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When Schott Music delivered their gorgeously presented Relax with Beautiful Piano Music series of five books back in 2016, I concluded my review:
“What excites me is that these books so brilliantly meet the demand expressed by so many of my teenage and adult students for beautiful music that can be enjoyed for enjoyment’s sake.”
Is it really four years? Well, I am happy to report that during that time several of my adult students have been using these marvellous collections, and without exception absolutely loving the selections of music they contain.
In most cases, having bought one book they have rushed to buy others in the series without prompting, an obvious indication of enthusiasm, and interestingly the Baroque and Classical books have proven particularly popular.
Happily for all, Schott Music are back with an encore, a sixth book again selected by British concert pianist Samantha Ward. With the title Relax with Meditative Piano, it promises to be another winning selection of great music. So come on, let’s see what’s in it…
In step with the gorgeous presentation of the previous titles in this series, Relax with Meditative Piano arrives cloaked in a beautiful and inviting cover:
Within, the 92 high-quality cream pages are prefaced by a short introduction by Ward, in which she tells us,
“Schott Music’s ‘Relax with‘ series is designed to help you unwind with some of the piano repertoire’s greatest works, alongside lesser known pieces from the baroque period right through to the 20th century. I have very much enjoyed compiling this particular edition, including a wide range of pieces from several different genres…
I have tried to incorporate as much variety within the repertoire as possible, whilst remaining within the boundaries of relaxing and meditative pieces of music. Adding one more anthology to the set has been hugely rewarding and I hope you enjoy all the collections, hopefully discovering new repertoire and composers along the way,”
There’s also a contents page listing the following intriguing list of 40 pieces:
- George Nevada: When Paris Dreams
- Hans-Günter Heumann: Like a Feather in the Wind
- Paul Zilcher: Lullaby, Op. 93/4
- Jürgen Moser: Sad Song
- Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff / Thomas de Hartmann: Song of the Fisherwomen
- Barbara Heller: Evening Flower
- Melanie Spanswick: Inflections
- John Kember: Soft Blue
- Samantha Ward: Tango for Em
- Mike Schoenmehl: Melancholy Reflections
- Melanie Spanswick: Lost in Thought
- Peter Michael Hamel: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
- Melanie Spanswick: Walking in the Woods
- George Nevada: Little Atlantic Rhapsody
- Samantha Ward: Slow Blues
- Johanna Senfter: Lullaby
- Eduard Pütz: Sentimental Lady
- Johann Sebastian Bach / Alexander Siloti: Prelude in B minor
- Franz Liszt: Notturno No. 2, S 541a
- John Kember: Midnight Blue
- Robert Schumann: Child Falling Asleep, Op. 15/2
- Zhang Zhao: Meditation
- Hans-Günter Heumann: Listen to Your Heart
- Alexander Gretchaninoff: Lamentation, Op. 3/1
- Edvard Grieg: Elegy, Op. 38/6
- Robert Fuchs: Lullaby
- Alexander Scriabin: Prélude, Op. 27/2
- Isaac Albéniz: Prélude, Op. 165/1
- Mikis Theodorakis: Margarita, Daughter of May
- Maciej Raginia: Impressions on E.D.
- Charles Gounod: Ave Maria
- Charles-Valentin Alkan: Barcarolle, Op. 65/6
- Jules Massenet: Méditation from Thaïs
- Uwe Korn: Air in Blue
- Robert Schumann: Sheherazade, Op. 68/32
- Aaron Copland: Sentimental Melody
- Edvard Grieg: Notturno, Op. 54/4
- Frédéric Chopin: Prélude, Op. 28/13
- Johann Sebastian Bach / Ferruccio Busoni: I Call to You, Lord Jesus Christ
- Sergei Rachmaninoff: Elegie, Op. 3/1
However seasoned a player you are, and however well-versed in contemporary pedagogic piano publications, you will likely find quite a significant number of fresh discoveries here which you’ve not encountered elsewhere. Even as an experienced reviewer and teacher, upon receiving the review copy I was immediately at the piano reading through some delightful repertoire that I had not previously come across.
The pieces are arranged roughly in order of difficulty, starting with elementary (Grade 2) pedagogic pieces and moving progressively towards the concluding Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ (Bach, such a memorable opening piece to Martin James Batlett’s Love and Death album, reviewed here) and Rachmaninov’s Elegy Op.3/1, obviously advanced and at time of writing an ABRSM Grade 8 piece.
It’s a disparate collection by any standards, chock-full of great pieces from different times and places, written for players at different stages in their personal piano journey, but all absorbed by a single flame: this is music to utterly fall in love with, to obsess over, to whole-heartedly enjoy.
Reading the list of pieces, it is clearly also a book of two halves…
Firstly, the easier pieces which are largely contemporary, and provide a powerful reminder that Schott Music’s pedagogic publications have quietly grown to offer a stunning treasury of great pieces.
Secondly, in the latter part of the book we find a selection of more challenging pieces from a wider range of styles and periods. There’s some fabulous finds here, which is why I think it would be wrong to simply think of these as the “B-Side” pieces that didn’t fit into the original five books. And with such unexpected variety, each piece is able to really shine here too, a reminder that context is all.
To summarise, anyone looking for some good new music will find loads of it here, and consistently of the highest quality, making this compilation a true ‘must-have’.
And then there’s the book itself…
All of these gems are brought together in a high quality publication that not only lives up to, but in my view even surpasses the high standards already set by the Relax series.
Previous titles in the series have included some variance of music fonts and editing, being drawn from Schott’s extensive back catalogue; this time the works have all been selected from recent publications, and enjoy a consistent modern presentation, approach and spacious house style, characterised by superb clarity of presentation.
If there is one very minor inconsistency it is that just a few of the pieces lack fingering. In general though, there is well-thought-out fingering throughout the collection; it is a very helpful addition which independent adult players will especially appreciate.
At the time of writing this review, the world is gripped by the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. It’s the strangest of times, a time of uncertainty, anxiety, confusion, and searching.
Relax with Meditative Piano is undoubtedly a balm to heal the soul. As we take time to reflect on our piano journey, and to consider what music really means to us, I believe many will find their answer right here. Here is a mixture of simply superb solo piano music, much of it too-little-known, but deserving wide enjoyment: music that may well linger in our hearts for a lifetime.
There’s a danger that I’m going to get carried away here, because Relax with Meditative Piano is a book that inspires poetry in me as a reviewer, and far more importantly, as a musician. It is just wonderful!
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