Uplifting Piano Solos

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I recently reviewed a series of seven books of arrangements of popular religious songs by Glenda Austin, an esteemed pedagogue, composer and arranger from Missouri USA. As I mentioned in my conclusion to that review, Solos for the Sanctuary offer their own masterclass in how to take a simple melody and create an engaging piano solo, rich in musical substance.

Now Austin is back with a brand new secular collection from The Willis Music Company. Uplifting Piano Solos offers “ten inspiring arrangements” suitable for intermediate to early advanced players, and I would suggest that the collection would suit players at around UK Grades 5-7 level.

I am thrilled to welcome this, a collection that showcases Austin’s brilliant skill to a potentially broader audience. So let’s take a quick look…

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Piano Music by Women Composers

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After several decades in which music by women composers was largely overlooked by those compiling piano anthologies, concert programmes, exam and festival lists, the recent renaissance of interest can be warmly welcomed as a necessary recalibration, and one which continues to bring to light many wonderful treasures.

Gail Smith’s pioneering Women Composers in History anthology (2013, Hal Leonard, available here) paved the way for more recent collections from Melanie Spanswick (reviewed here) and Karen Marshall (reviewed here). These ‘voices in the wilderness’ certainly piqued our interest, introducing piano enthusiasts to many names that we had been unaware of.

If those collections were the harbingers of change, two new anthologies compiled by Immanuela Gruenberg (again published by Hal Leonard) deliver a confident musical consummation of that promise, a tour de force of truly stunning classics.

Delivered with mature confidence and polished professionalism for a mass global market, these slick collections herald a watershed moment. Join me as I discover Piano Music by Women Composers

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The Cinematic Piano Playlist

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Faber Music’s Piano Playlist series is developing at pace these days. After the success of the first book, published in 2019 and reviewed here, the Christmas Piano Playlist appeared in late 2022, reviewed here, followed just weeks ago by the Peaceful Piano Playlist Revisited, reviewed here.

Now, hot on those heels, they have yet another title joining the series. The Cinematic Piano Playlist promises,

“Over 30 incredible themes from the biggest film soundtracks, games and television shows, all arranged for intermediate piano.”

Let’s find out what the collection delivers…

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The Restoration of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

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The piano music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) is surely one of the great treasures of the solo repertoire, too long overlooked but now rightly being rediscovered and brought back into the spotlight.

Schott Music, who published many of these works during the composer’s lifetime, have begun painstakingly re-releasing Coleridge-Taylor’s output in modern performing editions. Among the piano scores restored to the Schott catalogue, and the subject of this review, are the Three Humoresques Op.31 (1898), Three Cameos Op.56 (1904), and (perhaps best-known), Three Fours: Valse-Suite Op.71 (1909).

These pieces all offer wonderful examples of Coleridge-Taylor’s art, and would suit players at around UK Grade 8 to Associate Diploma level. So let’s take a closer look, and reflect on their value…

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Solos for the Sanctuary

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For any who are unfamiliar with Glenda Austin’s work, she is a prolific composer and superb arranger from Missouri USA, whose work is published by the Willis Music Company, distributed by Hal Leonard.

With vast experience as a church musician, Austin has been making arrangements of classic hymns and worship songs since she was a teenager playing in a small Baptist church. Today, she continues to play for the United Methodist Church in her hometown, Joplin.

Austin’s Solos for the Sanctuary series launched with Hymns and a Christmas collection more than a decade ago. Aimed at “the Church Pianist”, these books delivered arrangements suitable for advanced players (around UK Grades 7-8) to include as musical interludes in services as appropriate.

Further collections soon appeared, becoming a popular strand of Austin’s output alongside her educational work. Spirituals (2011), Worship (2012), Gospel (2014) and Hymns 2 (2019) have now been joined by Seasons (2023), prompting this review looking back at the series.

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Discovering Burgmüller

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Burgmüller’s three collections of piano etudes, Op.100, Op.105 and Op.109 have been cornerstones of the piano pedagogy literature for over a century and a half, and remain as popular today as ever.

In this short article I will look at each of the three, share my own recordings of Op.100, compare and recommend good editions for those wanting to study these brilliant pieces.

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Bill Evans • Jazz Piano Solos

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Hal Leonard’s outstanding Jazz Piano Solos series of collections, featuring the ace arrangements of Brent Edstrom, has clocked up more than 60 volumes, showcasing music from Berlin to Bossa, from Cocktail to Coltrane.

With differing licensing rules and rights issues from one country to another however, not all are available beyond the US. As a fan of iconic jazz pianist Bill Evans, I am particularly delighted by the long-awaited arrival on these shores of Volume 19; published back in 2011, but only recently cleared for the UK market, the collection boasts 24 momentous classics from the catalogue the redefined jazz piano playing…

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Peaceful Piano Playlist Revisited

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Reviewing Faber Music’s Peaceful Piano Playlist collection back in 2019, I wrote,

Faber Music have brilliantly encapsulated a very current musical zeitgeist with this collection, and it deserves to simply fly off the shelves!”

Read the full article here

Presumably the collection was as successful as it deserved to be, because since then Faber have revisited the series with the Peaceful Piano Playlist Christmas collection (reviewed here) and now present The Peaceful Piano Playlist Revisited, a brand new collection of music which equally captures the vibes that continue to enthralled listeners and players…

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Ola Gjeilo: Dawn

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Ola Gjeilo’s Night was not just one of the most comforting CD releases of 2020, but in its sheet music form (reviewed here) became one to the most poplar contemporary piano collections that I have taught to my students, rivalling and generally besting the music of Einaudi and the other best-selling artists dominating the new classical space.

Now, Norwegian composer Gjeilo is back with an equally superb sequel, and it is appropriately titled Dawn. The CD version appeared back in the autumn. The sheet music publication arrived today, and having played through the pieces I want to waste no time before bringing you my recommendation…

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Edition Peters’ Graded Anthologies 2023-24

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In recent years, Edition Peters have been publishing anthologies of selected ABRSM Grade 8 pieces, a stroke of publishing genius predicated on the following ABRSM Syllabus statement:

“Candidates may use any edition of the music, except where a particular arrangement or transcription is specified. Editions quoted in the syllabus are given for guidance only and are not obligatory”.

With one of the most extensive music back-catalogues, Edition Peters have found themselves brilliantly placed to jump in with varied anthologies of the best syllabus choices, offering larger compendiums than ABRSM’s own publications (which offer just nine pieces).

With the advent of ABRSM’s 2023-24 Piano Syllabus (reviewed here), Edition Peters are back with a new set of publications which expand on their previous effort in two important ways:

  • this time, there are collections for Grades 5, 6, 7 and 8
  • in each volume, Edition Peters include a few own choice pieces in addition to the highlights of the published syllabus

Edition Peters would thus seem to have a more ambitious vision for this series, making it an ever more intriguing proposition. Some will see these books are alternatives to ABRSM’s official syllabus publications, while others will welcome them as hugely useful supplements that present a wider range of alternative piece selections.

In this review, I will offer a side-by-side comparison, listing the included repertoire so that readers can make an informed choice about which to buy, or indeed whether to purchase both…

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Faber Music Ballads Piano Anthology

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The latest bumper publication to join the popular Faber Music Piano Anthology series focusses on pop ballads in solo piano arrangements suitable for advanced players.

As ever, the 176-page collection arrives wrapped in a classy, high quality thick matt card cover, with a sturdy but (in mine and my students experience) flexible spine that can both stand the test of time and lie flat on the music stand with minimal persuasion.

A lot of adults bring these books to my studio and consistently love them. Whether purchased as a gift book for a pianist friend or for your own study and enjoyment, any of the Faber Music Piano Anthologies is a top choice. With titles to suit all. including Soundtracks, Jazz, Contemporary and Christmas, you can explore the series here.

So let’s consider the latest addition…

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Fauré • Pavane Op.50

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The Pavane Op.50 by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) is blessed with one of the most delectable and beloved melodies ever composed, and was from the start one of its composer’s most popular works, exuding the spirit of Paris’s fêtes galantes at the turn of the century.

The piece was originally composed for orchestra in 1887, described by Fauré at the time as “carefully crafted but not otherwise important”. Before the end of the year, there followed a version for chorus and orchestra. Some three decades later, the iconic impresario Serge Diaghilev had it choreographed for his Ballets Russes, a sign of its continuing great popularity.

Many transcriptions of the Pavane have existed, including the solo piano version published in 1889 (the composer’s duet version was also advertised, but if it ever appeared it has sadly been lost).

Many simplified versions have and continue to appear, but for those wanting to explore the original version (most likely prepared by Fauré himself, who performed it several times and even recorded it for player piano), Bärenreiter have just issued a superb urtext edition, BA 11832, the subject of this short review…

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Jazz It Up! Christmas

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Piano players at early advanced level enthusiastic for a more jazzy take on evergreen Christmas favourites have never been better served, with several choices among my recent reviews to choose from.

Alongside these, they will likely lap up Eric Baumgartner’s brilliant Jazz It Up! Christmas, now in its second edition, and offering twelve ingenious solo arrangements in a variety of accessible grooves.

Twelve, you say? Well yes: the first edition of the book appeared in 2000 and included six pieces; that number doubled to twelve with the publication of the second edition in 2020, the subject of this mini review…

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Donald Thomson’s Winter Piano Music

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Scottish composer Donald Thomson is perhaps best known for his series of Celtic Piano Music collections for intermediate pianists, the omnibus edition of which I have reviewed here.

I have also been impressed with his enjoyable Halloween Piano Tunes collection for elementary players, which I reviewed here recently.

Now Thomson is back with Winter Piano Music, a new collection that is once again published by EVC Music. This time he has written for the more advanced player, delivering five compositions and arrangements which are surely destined to become seasonal concert favourites…

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Christmas Songs & Standards: Jazz Piano Solo

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Last Christmas, I brought you my review of the superb jazz piano collection Jazz Piano Solos: Christmas Classics, a stunner of a publication about which I concluded:

“This book is an easy recommendation to any advanced player who has ever fancied playing popular Christmas music in an enjoyable lounge jazz style. I think that’s a lot of people, spicily catered for here, so this deserves to be hugely popular!”

In that review I also noted that there were two previous titles in Hal Leonard’s consistently brilliant Jazz Piano Solos series awaiting copyright clearance for UK release, so it’s with seasonal cheer that I can confirm both those titles are now also available, and the subject of this review.

Again the work of the impressively prolific talent known as Brent Edstrom, it’s no surprise that they are both simply superb. Read on to find out more…

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Peaceful Jazz Piano Solos

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Reviewing Hal Leonard’s popular and keenly-priced Peaceful Piano Solos series last year, I concluded that,

“The Peaceful Piano Solo series is an easy recommendation, delivering a brilliant selection of contemporary favourites in a tastefully presented set of anthologies, with nicely playable editions. All the books are packed with hits from cover to cover, and there’s a book for everyone here.”

The series only becomes more compelling with the arrival of Peaceful Jazz Piano Solos, a collection of 30 standards arranged for early advanced players.

Let’s delve…

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Luke Howard: 28 Transcriptions

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Australian composer Luke Howard has suggested that his music evokes the material of life: as he puts it, “fragmented relationships, childhood memories, and the passages of time.”

Howard’s dreamy, oscillating music heavily features the piano alongside synth textures and strings, tapping into the now-ubiquitous classical crossover approach while combining pop gestures and misty melodies. Howard also fronts the Luke Howard Trio, whose subtle contemporary jazz albums should not be missed.

Originally published by Lukktone in 2020 and now brought to us in all its loveliness by Faber Music, the collection 28 Transcriptions for Solo Piano is a beautifully presented publication containing reworkings of Howard’s favourite and most requested pieces.

With a launch asking price of £40.00 (or make it £32.00 for Pianodao Tea Room community members), the volume perhaps isn’t an impulse purchase, but personally I think this book is a real treasure, so let me tell you more…

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Schumann’s Three Romances

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Schumann’s Romanze in F sharp Op.28 No.2 is one of my absolute favourite pieces to play, and with its inclusion on the ABRSM Grade 8 syllabus over the last couple of years it has also featured more prominently in my teaching. This truly beautiful paean to love is surely one of the highlights of the nineteenth century repertoire, and is understandably cherished the world over.

That said, many struggle to read the score accurately, which in most editions is compressed to two pages, dense with accidentals, counterpoint and three-stave passages.

A welcome solution has arrived with a new edition from Wiener Urtext Edition, who have generously afforded the piece four pages (including one page turn). Playing the piece using this version has proved for me a boon, the notation a model of clarity.

The other two Romances also appear more inviting here, freshly edited by Michael Beiche and with fingerings and notes on interpretation by Tobias Koch. So let’s take a closer look…

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Phillip Keveren’s Latest Hat Trick

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American composer and ace arranger Phillip Keveren has been a busy chap this year, and among several publications he has just brought us three new anthologies for more advanced players in the immensely popular Phillip Keveren Series from Hal Leonard.

For those not familiar with this series, it’s certainly worth catching up. Keveren has a gift for creating pianistically satisfying arrangements of music from chart hits to Christmas songs, from hymns to music hall classics and film themes.

Keveren also has an astute understanding of the pianist’s progress; the large and growing number of publications in his series include many titles aimed at the less advanced player, as well as titles such as the three latest reviewed here, which would be ideal for any advanced player (around UK Grades 6-8):

I have reviewed several titles in this series before, uniformly praising them for their musical and presentational quality. The three new additions to the series confidently measure up to the high standards previously set, and are an easy recommendation for those keen to discover superb piano arrangements of the titles included.

Here’s a simple introduction to the musical content of each…

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Jazz Piano Solos: Classical Jazz

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In the last year I have reviewed a couple of titles from Hal Leonard’s popular Jazz Piano Solos series, featuring arrangements suitable for advanced players from the pen of the indefatigable Brent Edstrom:

Proving you can’t keep a good arranger down, the unstoppable Edstrom is back with Jazz Piano Solos Vol. 63, and this time he brings a classical spin to the party…

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Discovering the piano music of Leoš Janáček

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Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) lived a life of music, but it was in his mature phase that he created the most enduring of his masterpieces.

Works such as The Cunning Little Vixen, the orchestral Sinfonietta and Taras Bulba, the Glagolitic Mass, and two popular string quartets have ensured that Janáček’s reputation is now immortalised as one of the greatest ever Czech composers, and a leading figure in the narrative of European music in the early twentieth century.

Janáček composed for the piano throughout his career, from his younger days as a student in Leipzig through to Vzpomínka [Reminiscence], composed in his final year. However, his major published works date from between 1900-1912:

  • On an Overgrown Path (1900, 1908, 1911)
  • Sonata I. X. 1905 (1905) and
  • In the Mists (1912).

In this survey I will take a look at each of these works, followed by a recent compilation of Janáček’s less well-known solo piano music.

In all cases, I will be turning to the benchmark editions from Bärenreiter, which can be regarded as the authoritative performing versions.

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Sibelius: Three Sonatinas Op.67

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Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is best known for his seven Symphonies, ever-popular Tone Poems and brilliant Violin Concerto; many pianists are unaware that he also wrote prolifically for our instrument.

Although Finland’s greatest composer famously declared that he didn’t like the piano and only composed for the instrument to generate income, he wrote more than 150 solo works, predominantly miniatures, and in many cases works of tremendous musical value and appeal.

Among these many works, the Three Sonatinas Op.67 are later pieces which fully embody the compressed craftsmanship and musical language of the mature Sibelius.

Published by Breitkopf & Hārtel, the benchmark edition is the Complete Edition of Jean Sibelius Works, series V Works for Piano, edited by Karl Kilpeläinen and published in 2008. Happily, Breitkopf have now released the Three Sonatinas as an individual folio, the subject of this review…

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Alexis Ffrench: ‘Truth’

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Alexis Ffrench’s star has continued to rise since my review of Hal Leonard’s Alexis Ffrench: The Sheet Music Collection a couple of years ago.

Last year Ffrench became Composer in Residence with Scala Radio; readers will be still more interested in the recent announcement of his appointment as the new Artistic Director of ABRSM, the music examination board, a role of which he has enthusiastically said,

“I can’t wait to start working with ABRSM’s Chief Executive, Chris Cobb, and his wonderful team in service of teachers and learners all over the world!”

On the creative front, Ffrench recently released his latest album on Sony. Truth introduces thirteen brand new tracks, including collaborations with singer Leona Lewis, guitarist Jin Oki, and with the lush backing of a 70-piece orchestra.

According to the artist,

“In writing these pieces, as we were all locked down, I imagined what the world would look like if we all asked ourselves the question “who am I and what is my purpose in the world?” and what we, as a human race, could create and change together. Out of that intensely personal moment, and as a reaction to feelings I could barely fathom at the time, these songs were born – as an elegy to the audacity of hope.”

Hal Leonard have just published the official sheet music folio of all the tracks from the album in solo piano transcriptions, the subject of this review…

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Liszt’s Late Pieces 1880-1885

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Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was undoubtedly a towering giant among the pianist-composers of the nineteenth century, but the significance of his late piano pieces has been the subject of much debate.

On the one hand these works are considered heralds of the elderly Liszt’s waning inspiration; on the other, they are often praised as visionary pieces, stark in their radical simplicity, bold in their chromaticism and opaque relationship to the highly evolved tonal system of their time.

Dusting off some of these most remarkable compositions, a new edition by Michael Kube has recently been published by Bärenreiter, which deserves investigation by players, teachers and academics alike…

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Phillip Keveren’s Three-Minute Encores

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“As the last note hangs in the air, there is a magical moment when an audience will, once in a while, decide they want to hear more! Not a lot more, mind you. The clock is ticking and the babysitter can only stay until 10 pm. But, can we make this evening last just a little longer?”

So enthuses ace arranger Phillip Keveren in the preface to his latest collection from Hal Leonard, the cunningly conceived Three-Minute Encores.

Keveren will be known to regular Pianodao readers from my reviews of his superb Piano Calm (reviewed here) and Circles (reviewed here), both of which have become absolute studio essentials here, favourites with multiple students, and are among the most-used collections I have ever reviewed.

One of America’s leading arrangers, Keveren has also delivered literally dozens of other books for Hal Leonard, collectively The Phillip Keveren Series, to which this new issue belongs. And it’s another corker, so let’s investigate…

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