Mystery Piano

Sheet Music Review

Of the many new piano collections reviewed here on Pianodao over the last couple of years, one of the smaller number to make a particular impact within my own teaching studio has been Hans-Günter Heumann’s Fantasy Piano, reviewed here, which has become a firm favourite with early-intermediate players. Pieces such as Rainbow Fairy and The Sunken Island of Atlantis have started to appear in our regular student concerts, and clearly appeal to players and audiences alike.

Heumann has now produced a brand new collection – a sequel, again published by Schott Music, called Mystery Piano. So let’s see how it compares…

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The Graded Piano Player

Sheet Music Review

The Graded Piano Player is a series of three books from Faber Music, comprising arrangements of well-known tunes specially arranged by leading educationalists for pianists from around ABRSM Grade 1-5 level.

Published back in 2016, the books return to the spotlight as two of these arrangements – Close Every Door from Book 1 and Wouldn’t it be loverly from Book 2 – have been selected for ABRSM’s brilliant new 2019/20 syllabus (which Karen Marshall and I reviewed here).

When pieces are selected from the “alternatives lists”, there’s always a danger that a pupil might be expected to purchase a separate book from which they will only ever play a single piece – so teachers, parents and students will undoubtedly be interested to hear what the rest of the book is like, and in this instance the rest of the series.

With that in mind, let’s take a look …

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Garreth Brooke’s “Upright” Project

“Upright” is a piano project with a difference …

I spoke to project coordinator, Garreth Brooke to find out more…

Continue reading Garreth Brooke’s “Upright” Project

Christopher Norton’s “Connections for Piano”

Sheet Music Review

Connections for Piano is a series of eight books which between them offer a staggering 185 original compositions by wildly popular educational composer Christopher Norton.

Originally published for the North American market by Frederick Harris Music, the series has now been republished worldwide by Norton’s own in-house publishing company, 80 Days Publishing.

In this review I will offer an overview of the series, as well as explaining how the new product slightly differs from the original FJH incarnation.

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Piano Sketches & Duets

Sheet Music Review

With so many great new educational piano music publications on the market, it is becoming easy to miss or overlook some genuinely top-drawer material.

And of the many collections to be published over the last few years, Vitalij Neugasimov’s two books of Piano Sketches are among those that you really DON’T want to miss!

Publishers Oxford University Press (OUP) have now added two new volumes of duets to the series, appropriately titled Piano Sketches Duets 1 and 2 – providing the perfect opportunity to explore the whole series.

OUP do seem to have the midas touch when it comes to selecting sure-fire winners to publish – their many best-sellers include the Nikki Iles Jazz Series, Janet & Alan Bullard’s brilliant Pianoworks, and of course Pauline Hall’s Piano Time range of method books, which despite stiff competition retain the crown as the UK’s favourite piano tutor books.

So let’s see whether the Piano Sketches series compares favourably …

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Piano Exotico, Tranquillo & Vivace!

Sheet Music Review

The indomitable and much-loved Barbara Arens has recently added two new titles to her Breitkopf & Hārtel catalogue, which already includes One Hand Piano, 21 Amazingly Easy Pieces and Piano Misterioso.

The double-barrelled Piano Tranquillo/Vivace has already been reviewed here briefly a while ago, but I will take another look here. First, however, let’s take a look at the latest edition to the series, the marvellous Piano Exotico

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The Piano Playlist

Sheet Music Review

The Piano Playlist is an anthology of 50 popular classics in easy solo piano arrangements by Barrie Carson Turner, published by Schott Music. According to the publishers,

“Taking the concept of the ‘playlist’ from the world of digital streaming, the book presents a carefully chosen selection of the world’s favourite classical pieces for today’s student and amateur musicians.
Including works from the symphonic, operatic and solo repertoire, this collection will provide hours of enjoyable music making. From the relaxing to the dramatic and the uplifting to the melancholic, there’s music for every mood and occasion.”

I included a short review of this when it first appeared, but having now used it successfully with adult students I am pleased to offer a more detailed look and recommendation …

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Easy Piano Series: “Film” and “Shows”

Sheet Music Review

There is always room on the music shelf for easy piano arrangements of well-known and popular songs – players of all ages naturally find it encouraging and enjoyable to tackle tunes that are familiar to them, their family and friends.

It is no doubt with this in mind that Faber Music have just released two collections in The Easy Piano Series, one covering famous show tunes, the other film themes, all aimed at players who are at around Grades 1 to 2 level.

Let’s take a quick look …

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Which Mikrokosmos?

Sheet Music Review

Bartók’s monumental cycle of 153 educational piano pieces and 33 exercises, published in six volumes as the Mikrokosmos in 1940, is rightly regarded as a  seminal work within the pedagogic literature. But it often strikes me that it is more important than it is popular.

Even in my own studio (and I am a self-confessed Bartók fanatic!) it emerges from the music cupboard far less frequently than the more obviously popular For Children, First Term at the Piano, Rumanian Folk Dances and Ten Easy Pieces.

For those wanting to explore this musical smorgasbord there has never been more opportunity to do so, however, with three excellent editions to choose from. Which, though, is the best?

In this review I will be looking at classic New Definitive Version from Boosey & Hawkes, and comparing the more recent Urtext editions from Henle Verlag and Wiener Urtext Edition. I should note in passing that there is also a budget all-in-one-volume edition from Chester Music, not submitted for review or included in this survey.

Continue reading Which Mikrokosmos?

Sound Sketches

Sheet Music Review

Graham Lynch is a composer whose works have been performed by (among others) the BBC Symphony Orchestra, The Hilliard Ensemble, and in venues as diverse and prestigious as London’s South Bank and the Wigmore Hall, the Paris Conservatoire and the Merkin Hall New York.

One of Graham’s more recent projects was his series of progressive piano repertoire books called Sound Sketches.

When he self-published them back in 2011-12, Graham explained to me:

“Sound Sketches is an exciting and innovative series of graded piano pieces that will appeal to pianists of all ages and abilities. These pieces are varied in character, and each one opens up an imaginative world of colours and textures for players to explore. These ‘sound images’ are evoked through strong melodic ideas which hide their technical challenges within a sense of the delight that can be had from conjuring music from the keyboard.”

Obtaining a set I quickly found students – both teenagers and adults – who were enchanted by the pieces.

I was therefore delighted to hear that the books are now being published and freshly promoted by Elena Cobb via her EVC Music website. It must be hoped this will lead to these brilliant books receiving the attention they deserve!

Let me tell you why I think that these books merit a place on the already crowded shelves of piano teachers, students and players…

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Mike Springer: Lyrical Landscapes

Sheet Music Review

Mike Springer will be known to many readers (especially in the US) as a prolific educational composer, with many publications in print with Alfred Music (UK readers can explore his extensive catalogue here).

Lyrical Landscapes is his latest series, appearing as three collections of solo piano music composed for intermediate players.

Written in a variety of styles ranging from Romantic to contemporary, covering a variety of moods, these pieces are evocative and engaging to play, and would especially suit older and adult players at this level.

According to the composer:

Lyrical Landscapes is a collection of expressive pieces … written to provide opportunities for late elementary to late intermediate students to develop skills in projecting lyrical, melodic lines…

“From slow ballads to upbeat tempos, these pieces allow pianists the opportunity to develop a deeper musical awareness through the use of technical control, rubato, and subtle tempo changes. These pieces were composed so students not only enjoy performing the music, but grow musically along the way.”

Let’s take a closer look…

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Indian Raags for Piano made easy

Sheet Music Review

”And now for something completely different …”

John Pitts’ book How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano was undoubtedly one of the most unique publications submitted for review last year, and as I browsed through the 260-page volume, I have to admit that I was somewhat overwhelmed by the depth and quantity of information in it – to the extent that I felt genuinely unqualified to write a review!

How happy I was, then, to learn that John has written a prequel called Indian Raags for Piano Made Easy, suitable for players from easy to intermediate level (around Grades 1+ to 4 in my view).

This, surely, would be the collection that I needed in order to jump in and have a go at exploring this extraordinary and diverse music! So, how did that work out?

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Six Little Preludes & Fugues

Sheet Music Review

June Armstrong (see Your Story: June Armstrong) has proven not only to be one of our more imaginative contemporary educational composers, but also to have a keen eye for gaps in the existing pedagogic repertoire.

Her many excellent and innovative publications via her business Pianissimo Publishing (see my reviews of Safari, Stars and Rayan’s Duet Book) fill a wide range of such gaps, and between them comprise a genuinely important body of work. Every collection, too, is a joy to explore and a delight to own.

June’s latest collection is Six Little Preludes and Fugues, and looks set to continue this trend, living up to the high standards of previous publications.

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Pam Wedgwood’s ‘Piano Gallery’

Sheet Music Review

The simple ideas – so they say – are often the best.

And with her latest publication – Piano Gallery – best-selling composer Pam Wedgwood has taken the seemingly simple idea of composing a collection of pieces inspired by great artworks, and with the visionary support of Faber Music, produced one of the finest, most imaginative and inspiring collections of original intermediate repertoire that I have yet had the pleasure of reviewing here.

So what is it about this publication that makes it such an essential purchase?

Continue reading Pam Wedgwood’s ‘Piano Gallery’

It’s a Piano Thing

Sheet Music Review

It’s a piano thing is a new publication from Boosey & Hawkes comprising two books of fresh original repertoire by Irish composer Ailbhe McDonagh.

ailbhe_mcdonagh_profile_picture_2017

Ailbhe is well known in her home country as an educational composer whose works have included commissioned pieces for school ensembles as well as educational piano pieces. She is also well known as a professional cellist who performs internationally and teaches at the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

Her piece Anastasia, which is included in the second of these books, was first published while Alibhe was still at school, appearing as a Grade 4 piece in the RIAM Local Centre Examinations (the Irish National Grade Examination System).

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The Intermediate Pianist

Sheet Music Review

The Intermediate Pianist series is a fresh and ground-breaking approach which is full of brilliant musical ideas. It’s sure to enable pianists to play with greater understanding and engagement, and comes very highly recommended.

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Easy Concert Pieces: Book 3

Sheet Music Review

Reviewing the first two books in this series last year, I concluded:

No need to beat around the bush: I really like this series!

Put simply, the two books so far both include a really appealing range of pieces in varied styles, beautifully presented and well-edited, and with a well recorded CD as a bonus. The first book contains 50 pieces, the second 48, and each has a recommended retail price of just £11.99, which represents excellent value for what’s included.

I would certainly want to use these books alongside some more contemporary repertoire, but overall I think they are likely to become standard collections used in my own teaching practice in the coming months. And I can’t wait to see Volume 3 when it comes out!

Since writing that, both books have indeed become resources that I use in my own teaching practice, particularly with older beginner/elementary players, and the students using them have been uniformly enthusiastic.

And now Book 3 is with us, completing the series. So let’s take a look!

Continue reading Easy Concert Pieces: Book 3

Play it Again: Piano

Sheet Music Review

As Pianodao has become more widely regarded for its independent reviews, I find myself with a mounting pile of material sent for me to look at, most of which is really very good indeed.

That said, some products genuinely stand out from the crowd, because they are innovative, unusual, speak to my particular interests, or are just excellently done.

Melanie Spanswick’s Play it again: Piano books 1 and 2 are all of the above, and easily stand out in the crowd. In this review I will do my best to explain why I think that is.

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At the Piano: Mozart

Sheet Music Review

Ask any classical performer to name which edition of the core repertoire they most highly regard both for daily use and as an authoritative Urtext Edition, and the name G. Henle Verlag will be at or close to the top of their list.

In their own words:

“Musicians need to be able to rely on their sheet music. This should be undistorted, free of errors, practical and durable. This is exactly what we provide. We call it Henle Urtext. Musicians around the world, both amateurs and professionals, know us.

Unlike the other music publishers, we have concentrated almost exclusively on producing Urtext editions of the great “classical” compositions ever since Günter Henle founded our company in 1948. As the world’s undisputed leader in this premium class, we have the most know-how about Urtext as well as the most comprehensive Urtext catalogue, comprising 1.000 titles to date.”

To this extensive catagloue, Henle recently added a new series of publications specifically aimed at those “returning to the piano”. That series, ‘At the Piano’ is happily now available in English.

According to the publisher:

  • Each volume includes original pieces by one composer.
  • The works are arranged in progressive order of difficulty (from easy to medium level).
  • The works complement one another conceptually.
  • The length of the pieces ranges from one to eight pages.
  • The works contain fingerings and practical tips on technique and
    interpretation.

There’s even this promotional video:

There are 12 volumes in the series, each focussing on the music of one core composer, and for this review I will be focussing on the Mozart volume in the series.

Details of the rest, including the lists of pieces they include, are on the Henle Verlag website here.

Continue reading At the Piano: Mozart

Martha Mier: “Jazz Suite in Color”

Sheet Music Review

Martha Mier is undoubtedly one of America’s finest educational composers.

Best-known in the UK for her Jazz, Rags & Blues and Romantic Impressions series, she is also a co-writer of the Alfred Premier Piano course (the new Express version of which I plan to review here soon) and composer of several other collections and stand-alone works.

Hot off the press, Jazz Suite in Color (don’t blame me for the spelling here!) joins Alfred Music’s growing Recital Suite Series aimed at intermediate players – in terms of the UK grades, these pieces are around Grade 4 level.

Let’s take a look…

Continue reading Martha Mier: “Jazz Suite in Color”