Faber Music Piano Anthology

Faber Music launched their deluxe Faber Music Piano Anthology with impeccable timing, just a few weeks before Christmas – but it makes a wonderful gift book for enthusiastic pianists, all the year around!

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ABRSM: Spectrum 5

Sheet Music Review

Spectrum launched in 1996 with the aim of commissioning serious solo contemporary works by distiguished composers, to be playable by talented amateur, student and professional pianists. Since its inception, the series has produced six compilations for piano (including Spectrum for Piano Duet) and additional anthologies for cello, clarinet and violin, containing a total of 225 new works.

spectrum-5

Once again compiled by aclaimed pianist Thalia Myers, Spectrum 5 includes 15 specially commissioned works by leading composers Victoria Borisova-Ollas, Philip Cashian, Chen Yi, Michael Finnissy, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Graham Fitkin, Helen Grime, Gavin Higgins, Gabriel Jackson, Harold Meltzer, Poul Ruders, Timothy Salter, Howard Skempton, Karen Tanaka and Huw Watkins.

The pieces range in length from 2-5 pages, with most being 3 pages long. According to ABRSM they range in difficulty from Grade 6 to Diploma (and they should know!) but I would qualify this by assuring readers that the majority here are squarely Grade 7-8 in my view, meaning that you should not be put off by the thought that the pieces will mostly be at the top end of the difficulty level.

In her introduction to the collection Thalia Myers writes:

“Although the pieces in Spectrum 5 are generally rather harder to play than many of those in earlier piano volumes, the purpose of Spectrum has remained unchanged since the first anthology was the mere glimmer of an idea twenty-odd years ago: to commission some of the world’s finest composers to write non-virtuosic miniatures that capture the essence of their concert music style, and to provide pieces that will appeal equally to student, amateur and professional performers and their audiences.”

The presentation is outstanding, in keeping with the whole series. The cover follows the style established by the first Spectrum book 20 years ago, yet seems remarkably fresh and up-to-date. The inside of the book is reassuringly familiar too, with short biographies of the 15 composers whose works are included, followed by the pieces themselves, all beautifully engraved and with brief footnotes by the composers.

While many of the pieces themselves are (as with the series as a whole) atonal, the collection is full of accessible musical and imaginative character, and never austere. I expect that many of these pieces will be hugely popular with players, and will no doubt be regular exam choices in future years too.

In short, here’s the best collection of new “contemporary classical” miniatures for piano that I have seen in years.

While there is great consistency of quality across the 15 pieces, my personal favourites are Gabriel Jackson’s ’Imaginary Birds, Karen Tanaka’s highly catchy ’Masquerade, Howard Skempton’s ’Aside (with its hints of Prokofiev) and Philip Caspian’s beautifully evocative ’Swale.

Supporting the publication, there is a full recording of the 15 pieces by Thalia Myers herself, available as a digital download from Amazon here.

I would recommend the recording as an essential purchase if you plan to play or teach these pieces. I assume it is a digital download because, at just over 30 minutes it doesn’t justify CD release. The quality is superb however, with a beautifully warm but clean recording of the piano, revealing every detail of these exquisite pieces.

ABRSM Publishing, £10.25
ISBN 978-1-84849-683-5

Piano Village (Elena Kats-Chernin)

Sheet Music Review

Elena Kats-Chernin (born 1957) is an Australian composer, originally from Uzbekistan (at the time part of the Soviet Union). Kats-Chernin has won numerous prizes, and her music was featured in the opening ceremony’s of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Her output includes 6 operas, the popular ballet Wild Swans, numerous orchestral and instrumental works, film scores and a large amount of piano music.

Piano Village brings together 25 of her piano solos in a single gorgeously presented volume recently published in the UK by Boosey & Hawkes. And it’s a stunning book.

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“Mindfulness: The Piano Collection”

Sheet Music Review

In his practical, in-depth article Is Mindfulness relevant to piano playing? guest author Doug Hanvey made a brilliant and thoroughly practical case for linking the two.

It’s great to now see that case amplified in a brand new publication from Faber Music – Mindfulness: The Piano Collection.

According to Faber Music:

“Mindfulness: The Piano Collection offers a way to bring mindfulness and playing the piano together by sharpening musical focus and establishing the pianist’s attention in the present moment. The carefully selected repertoire, which is aimed at intermediate level players, is presented with guidance on how to bring mindfulness into piano playing.”

So what does the book include, and how is it different to other piano anthologies?

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Relax with Beautiful Pieces

Sheet Music Review

For those who play the piano purely for their own enrichment (rather than for certificates or prizes) the latest series of publications from Schott Music will be of special interest. The Relax With series is aimed at intermediate to advanced pianists who play “mostly at home for their own enjoyment”.

According to British concert pianist Samantha Ward, who put these selections together :

“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 tried to include as many different styles and techniques as possible, whilst remaining within the boundaries of ‘relaxing’ pieces of music.”

So let’s take a closer look…

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“Eastern Preludes Collection” – Christopher Norton

Sheet Music Review

Christopher Norton is very deservedly one of the most famous and beloved educational composers alive today. Perhaps best known for his ground-breaking and million-selling ‘Microjazz’ series, which is one of the most widely used educational series ever, he has added many other outstanding collections to his list of publications.

His piano “Preludes” series is a particular favourite, with previous collections including ‘Jazz Preludes’, ‘Rock Preludes’, ‘Latin Preludes’ and ‘Country Preludes’.  

To these, Christopher recently added ‘Eastern Preludes Collection’, the subject of this review…

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ABRSM’s Encore Series

Sheet Music Review

Over the years ABRSM have produced a steady flow of graded piano repertoire books to supplement their exam resources, with series such as A Keyboard Anthology and Short Romantic Pieces becoming standard items in the teacher’s library.

However, one could have been forgiven for wondering whether some of these selections were made up of the most obscure pieces set in previous syllabi rather than the most widely enjoyed. So when Faber Music brought out their “Best of Grade…” books a few years ago, those looking for a one-stop collection of consistently appealing and varied pieces breathed a collective sigh of relief.

This summer ABRSM have responded with the publication of Encore, a set of four books which, based on their own data, include the most popular pieces featured in graded exams over the last decade or so.

Happily these collections include some great in-house pieces and arrangements now unavailable elsewhere. So, might these books play a central role in students learning over the next few years?

Let’s take a closer look.

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