The Faber Music Contemporary Piano Anthology

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Faber Music’s growing series of Piano Anthology books are a continuing source of joy, and have been enthusiastically received by several of my regular adult students.

I have reviewed several of the other anthologies here. Spoiler alert: in all cases I have been impressed both with the intelligence and value of the music selections and the quality of the publications themselves.

So it great to be welcoming a new addition to the family with the delivery of The Faber Music Contemporary Piano Anthology, which offers 52 “beautiful neoclassical pieces for solo piano”.

Let’s find out whether it lives up to the high standards set by the series…

“Beautiful Neoclassical Pieces”…

When it comes to popular post-minimal piano pieces, the field has become a crowded one of late, with Hal Leonard holding the rights to some of the best, including my recent favourites from Einaudi, Hauschka, Alexis Ffrench, Ola Gjeilo, Patrick Hamilton, Rachel Portman and Garreth Malone (click on each for my reviews).

But Faber Music have no shortage of excellent music in their own catalogue to draw from, as well as having licensed some favourites from elsewhere for this smashing new anthology.

What is perhaps most immediately striking with this collection however is the newness of the material, much of which appears here for the very first time:

  • A Catalogue of Afternoons (Max Richter)
  • Ab Ovo (Joep Beving)
  • Asos Model Crush (dne)
  • Avril 14th (Aphex Twin)
  • Back To Life (Giovanni Allevi)
  • Birdwoman (Poppy Ackroyd)
  • By The Roes, And By The Hinds Of The Field (Jóhann Jóhansson)
  • Comptine d’un autre été, l’après-midi (Yann Tiersen)
  • Début (Mélanie Laurent)
  • Despair (Goratie)
  • Eden (Hania Rani)
  • Engagement Party (Justin Hurwitz)
  • Eyes Closed And Traveling (Peter Broderick)
  • For Now (Anne Lovett)
  • For Stormboy (Rhiannon Bannenberg)
  • Grace (Sophie Hutchings)
  • Heart Asks Pleasure First, The (Michael Nyman)
  • Horizon Variations (Max Richter)
  • Inizio (Einaudi)
  • Jbel Sirwa (Pablo Nouvelle)
  • Kiss, The (Phildel)
  • Lamentation For A Lost Life (Max Richter)
  • Lily And James (Imogen Heap)
  • Mandus (Jessica Curry)
  • Mass (Re-Imagined) (Phoria)
  • Melodia Africana I (Einaudi)
  • Melodia Africana II (Einaudi)
  • Midwayer (Joep Beving)
  • Morning Passages (Philip Glass)
  • Nearly Curtains (Keaton Henson)
  • New Moon (Alexandre Desplat)
  • Norrsken (Karin Borg)
  • Nouveau-Né (Phoria)
  • Open (Luke Howard)
  • Opening (Philip Glass)
  • Overnight (Chilly Gonzales)
  • Petrichor (Keaton Henson)
  • Plus Tôt (Alexandra Stréliski)
  • Qi (Phildel)
  • Remove The Complexities (Peter Sandberg)
  • Shackleton’s Cross (Howard Goodall)
  • Sleeping Lotus (Joep Beving)
  • Strata (Poppy Ackroyd)
  • To The Sky (Moderate) (Dirk Maassen)
  • Zanarkand (Nobuo Uematsu)
  • Tokka (Agnes Obel)
  • Unhinged (Mike Lazarev)
  • Vaggvisa (Henrik Lindstrand)
  • Vladimir’s Blues (Max Richter)
  • Watermark (Enya)
  • Winter Piano, Imperfect Moments Pt. 5 (Johannes Brecht)
  • Zaouiat Ahansal (Pablo Nouvelle)

Having previously reviewed Faber’s excellent Peaceful Piano Playlist, I am particularly pleased that the publisher has resisted any urge to repackage the same material; a few overlaps are inevitable but Faber have kept duplication to an impressive minimum.

And while the big guns are here: Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannson, Yann Tiersen, Philip Glass, Poppy Ackroyd and Michael Nyman, it is encouraging to discover a few fresh faces from around the world too, with a healthy female presence.

Notable for their distinctive musical personality, I was impressed with the contributions from Agnes Obel, Sophie Hutchings, Henrik Lindstrand, Joep Beving, Giovanni Allevi and Keaton Henson, all striking me as worthy of further investigation.

Enya’s sublime Watermark (one of my absolute favourite piano solos of all time) magically introduced her debut album many moons ago. Here it rubs shoulders with more recent compositions from star turns Aphex Twin and the wondrous Imogen Heap, the increasingly ubiquitous New Moon from Twilight, and Justin Hurwitz’s Engagement Party, one of the more pianistically satisfying takeaways from La La Land.

Sticking to the populist, Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu’s Zanarkand (for the uninitiated) commemorates the former metropolis at Spira’s northernmost edge in Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2, so will have huge appeal for avid fans, but is also enjoyable as a piece in its own right.

Some pieces, played solo on an acoustic piano, are the poorer for the absence of the electronic treatments that made their original recordings special, Hania Rani’s gorgeous Eden being a prime example. Here it loses much of the atmosphere that so enriches the original.

Similarly, Jóhansson’s By the Roes, And By the Hinds of the Field seems to me a little lost without the delicious string sonorities and effects treatments of his superb Orphée recording for Deutsche Grammophon. I suspect his fans won’t mind, though.

Many will no doubt enjoy playing this music on digital instruments anyway, experimenting with layers of different instrumentation and voicing to maximise the sonorous import of these ambient classics.

As for the grandmaster himself, there are several pieces here by Ludovico Einaudi, but perhaps more tellingly his seminal influence looms large throughout the anthology. Indeed, a handful of the “fillers” completing the anthology could be charged with being derivative; if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Italian maestro may find himself blushing more than once!

Jackson Pollock and Beyond…

All of this is brought to us in a weighty tome that continues the high design ethic of the series, this time with a lovely cover reproducing the delicious (if rather busy, given the tone of music within) Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock:

As usual, the notation itself is spaciously presented with clean engraving, a minimum of fingering, and pristine print clarity on high quality white paper.

According to Faber, many of the transcriptions were provided by the composers themselves, while others were created by stalwart arranger Oliver Weeks. The pieces are all suitable for players at late intermediate to early advanced level (around UK Grades 5-7).

Reducing page turns and adding further to the high-end feel of the publication, full-page black and white images appear between pieces; in this case they are pleasing geometric shapes provided courtesy of Getty images.

The opulent presentation and, in particular, the impressive binding of these books has been the subject of much comment. As always, my view is a positive one here, and though some comment online that the Faber Music Anthologies don’t lie flat on the piano music stand, my experience is different:

My guess is that those who struggle with these books need to take, shall we say, a more “violent” approach. Such is the quality here that it is not only possible to bend the spines all the way back without breaking them, it is actually necessary to do so.

But for those concerned by the very thought of cruelty towards books, I hope the image below will bring reassurance. Here is the book, still beautifully intact at the end of the review process, with a scented candle soothing any residual trauma:

Closing Thoughts

“Neoclassical” music of this sort is certainly an opinion divider among my readers and students. Understatement! For some, this collection will be their worst nightmare come true, a veritable compendium of monotony!

But for those who enjoy this style of music (and I count myself among that significant number), Faber Music have surely struck gold with The Contemporary Piano Anthology. Here we have a top-drawer sourcebook for some of the best music in this genre.

To conclude then, this beautifully presented collection is another winner in Faber’s growing series, and can be recommended without reservation!

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.