The Pianodao shortlist of the best Christmas Music books reaches its conclusion with a survey of a few of the best for the more advanced pianist (UK Grades 6-8 and above).
There is a wonderful array of music for players to choose from at this level, and once again I will zoom in on four of my current favourites…
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’s already several seasonal titles included, and now comes 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 lesser 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 carol arrangements I’ve yet seen for the more advanced player, this collection most especially serves up truly playable and enjoyable solo piano arrangements of these lovely melodies.
After Hours: Christmas
Pam Wedgwood really is one of our finest arrangers too, and her After Hours series of books for adult players is to my mind among her very best work.
Wedgwood has two Christmas books in the After Hours series; I’m focusing on the first, which includes 11 delectable pieces, 10 of which are arrangements of traditional festive favourites, while the final piece, Looking Back, is a sentimental, original composition.
Wedgwood’s reworkings are more jazzy than those in Keveren’s book, but equally fabulous, and suitable for players at an early advanced level. A particularly joy of the collection is the variety of music included, from the opening lounge jazz arrangement of The Angel Gabriel through to the calypso The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy.
As with Wedgwood’s Christmas Jazzin’ About books, three pieces here are duets; both primo and secondo parts are equally suited to early advanced players, and are well worth the practising effort required!
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. 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!!
All the arrangements here are accessible for players at early advanced level, and every single one of them is a gem! Happily, there’s now an equally irresistible sequel too: Jazz on a Winter’s Night 2.
Jazz on a Winter’s Night has established itself as my all-time favourite Christmas music book, but its sequel gives it a run for its money! Both books are now utterly essential for any pianist above intermediate level. It’s great to find that Jazz on a Winter’s Night 2 is as absolutely brilliant as its forerunner, and it really does deserve to sell a million!
The Faber Music Christmas Anthology
Finally we come to the most opulent of Christmas piano collections, the beautifully and lavishly presented Faber Music Christmas Piano Anthology, hailed as outstanding when first reviewed here.
On first impression, you can be forgiven for thinking that this is a bumper sing-along book. But I must quickly disabuse you of that thought, because in fact these are proper solo piano renditions, suitable for lessons, home use, and great for public performance too!
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 impresses most of all is that all of the arrangements are both 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.
So there it is! I hope that you have found this survey useful, and that you found something to meet your musical requirements here.
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