The Christmas 2021 Shortlist: Advanced Piano Music

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The Christmas season is accompanied by a uniquely popular and significant body of music spanning multiple genres, and it’s no wonder that there are so many varied piano collections to choose from, whatever your level.

Once again this year, here is the updated and expanded Pianodao shortlist of the best seasonal piano sheet music, including a couple of new releases alongside several established hits.

The 2021 Pianodao shortlist concludes with collections suitable for more ADVANCED players (UK Grade 6 and above).

You can find the Pianodao 2021 Christmas Shortlists for other levels here:

And as ever, remember that Pianodao Tea Room members will receive a 20% discount from Musicroom for any of the publications included below…

The Faber Music Christmas Anthology

Let’s start with perhaps the most opulent of all Christmas piano collections. I hailed the lavish Faber Music Christmas Piano Anthology as outstanding when first reviewed here three years ago, and I haven’t changed my mind.

Faber Music Christmas Piano Anthology

On first impression, you can be forgiven for thinking that this is a 216-page bumper sing-along book. But in fact these are solo renditions suitable for lessons, home use, and great for public performance too, when possible.

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.

This is a book which has significantly raised the bar, instantly establishing itself as the new “must-have” Christmas music book.

What continues to impress me most of all is that these solo arrangements are so 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.

Read the Full Review Here

Jazz on a Winter’s Night

Jazz music and Christmas have a beautifully nostalgic association for many, and it’s no surprise that Jazz on a Winter’s Night has been such a huge success since its 2009 publication.

In this truly superb collection, esteemed jazz pianist Nikki Iles reimagines a selection of well-known and lesser-known seasonal tunes, adopting the voices of a succession of the great jazz musicians of the last hundred years.

All of the arrangements are accessible for players at early advanced level, and every single one of them is a gem. I return to this collection with students every year, and they absolutely love it!

The book includes a CD recording of Nikki Iles herself performing the pieces, and here once again the publication shines; if ‘jazz is caught, not taught’, then Nikki’s playing is as infectious as it comes!!

Happily, there’s now the equally irresistible Jazz on a Winter’s Night 2. It’s great to find that this collection is as brilliant as its forerunner, and it really does deserve to sell a million!

Jazz on a Winter’s Night has established itself as my all-time favourite jazz Christmas music book, but its sequel gives it a run for its money! Both books are now utterly essential for more advanced pianists.

Read the Full Review Here

Jazz It Up! Christmas

Those looking for a slightly more traditional jazzy take on the Christmas favourites will lap up Eric Baumgartner’s Jazz It Up! Christmas, now in its second edition offering 12 solo arrangements in a variety of accessible styles.

The first edition of the book appeared in 2000 and included 6 pieces; that number doubled to 12 with the publication of the second edition in 2020.

Baumgartner will be known to some for his Jazz Piano Basics course, jazzy additions to the John Thompson piano series and many other collections from Willis Music/Hal Leonard. His unbeatable sense of style and pedagogic wisdom equally combine to make this publication another top choice.

From boogie-tinged swing to Latin spice, taking in waltz and ballads along the way, every one of these arrangements proves totally irresistible, adding up to one of the most charming and joyously festive collections I’ve yet discovered.

The presentation, though not the most colourful, is classy. The 48-page book offers well engraved and nicely spaced notation aimed at classical players, with helpful fingering throughout. The author notes in his introduction,

“It is not essential for the player to have had previous jazz experience in order to learn and perform these pieces successfully; they are fully arranged. There are no chord symbols, or sections requiring improvisation. The experienced jazz player, however, is welcome to experiment with rhythmic and melodic variation or “open up” various sections for improvisation. As for the less experienced “jazzer”, this collection may serve as an introduction to the rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic vocabulary of jazz, and hopefully spark a desire for more in-depth study. Enjoy!”

I have a very strong feeling this may overtake the competition and prove to be my favourite jazz Christmas book yet…

Christmas Carols with a Classical Flair

Phillip Keveren is one of the best arrangers out there, with a library of 100+ books in the Phillip Keveren Series. There are several seasonal titles included, and last year brought us Christmas Carols with a Classical Flair, which is simply brilliant!

These arrangements essentially offer solo piano explorations of well-known traditional carol melodies, and work well as concert pieces in their own right.

Unlike some 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.

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.

Of all the classical carol arrangements I’ve yet seen for the more advanced player, this collection most especially serves up truly playable and enjoyable solo piano versions of these lovely melodies.

Read the Full Review Here

Christmas Songs for Classical Piano

New to me this year, but dating from 2017, here’s another highlight from the Keveren catalogue. The “15 seasonal gems” in this collection are essentially the usual mid-20th-century Christmas hits, but ingeniously arranged in the style of different classical composers and works.

All I want for Christmas is you appears in the style of Bach’s Invention No.10, I’ll be home for Christmas takes its cues from Chopin’s Prelude in E minor, and Jingle Bell Rock is fused with Scarlatti’s Sonata in C major K.460.

And there’s a dozen more titles to equally enjoy within this compilation. Looking for a mash up of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year and Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers? You bet it’s here!

All of the praise I have heaped on the other books in the Keveren series applies to this excellent publication, and by now you will probably know whether it’s for you!

The John Rutter Christmas Piano Album

This year’s shortlist finishes with an absolute classic from 2020…

For many around the world, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without the many choral pieces John Rutter has contributed to the repertoire over his long, distinguished composing career.

For this recent collection of solo piano transcriptions, Rutter has selected 8 favourites, skilfully creating artistically satisfying and sensitively pianistic versions of his choral classics. The writing calls upon a wide range, control of inner voices and counterpoint, and a fully-formed pedalling technique.

The words to the songs are included, together with plenty of performance indications. OUP masterfully ensure everything is in its correct place for maximum ease of reading. The only omission here is a lack of fingering suggestions.

We are fortunate indeed to have this publication, which offers us a succession of truly superb piano realisations of Rutter’s beloved Christmas favourites!

Read the Full Review Here

And there it is – the Pianodao 2021 Christmas Shortlist!
Wherever you are this Christmas, enjoy the Season!!

Also available • Andrew’s essential handbook:
How to Practise Music

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is the author of HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC, published worldwide by Hal Leonard. He is a widely respected piano educator and published composer based on Milton Keynes UK.