Review: The Piano Player, British Classics

What better way to celebrate the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III, than with this excellent and varied selection of British Classics, another publication in Faber Music’s well-conceived The Piano Player collection, with beautiful illustrations from Edward Bawden. You may remember that last year, I reviewed the Wintertide volume in the same series, and likewise, this book of British Classics would make an excellent gift item.

I was initially sceptical about the contents, but on closer inspection, and having had time to sit and play through the pieces, there’s a really lovely, varied selection. Yes, there are the old familiar favourites, but also some contemporary pieces, which, to my mind, deserve the accolade of being a ‘classic’ as much of the others. British Classics contains 20 pieces arranged for intermediate piano solo (I’d say Grades 5-6), and also includes a pullout print of the gorgeous Bawden artwork on the front cover.

Venus from The Planets by Holst
The Piano Player, British Classics

As you can imagine, there are some real British classics here, just as you would expect from a book such as this. These include Parry’s Jerusalem, Coates’ The Dam Busters March, Novello’s We’ll Gather Lilacs and Purcell’s Trumpet Tune. Each of the four nations are also represented: the Londonderry Air for Ireland; Auld Lang Syne for Scotland; and Land of My Fathers for Wales. The latter of these is a particularly pretty arrangement, giving real depth and warmth to the Welsh national anthem.

Where would a book like this be without Elgar? Two Elgar works are included: Salut d’Amour and the Theme from his Enigma Variations. Jeremiah Clarke’s The Prince of Denmark’s March is a good pairing for the Purcell, as is Handel’s ‘La Réjouissance’ from the Music for the Royal Fireworks. Whilst we might expect Holst’s ‘Jupiter’ from The Planets, it is actually the beautiful ‘Venus’ included here (my favourite of The Planets). Also included is the ‘Jig’ from his St Paul’s Suite.

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One of the things I particularly liked about these British Classics, is that they are not all big, triumphal, fanfare-like pieces. I mentioned ‘Venus’ above, and Warlock’s ‘Pieds’en l’air’ from his Capriol Suite and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis fall into the same category. There are, perhaps, some surprising inclusions: Howard Goodall’s The Lord is My Shepherd; however, this sits very well alongside the other pieces of film music: the theme from Emma (Rachel Portman); ‘The Heart Asks Pleasure First’ from Michael Nyman’s score from The Piano; and Carl Davis’ theme to Pride and Prejudice. A piece new to me, and one I shall enjoy exploring further, is the ‘Nocturne’ from Sonatina Romantica by Benjamin Britten.

Theme from Emma by Rachel Portman
Land of My Fathers, the Welsh national anthem

I can see that this book could spark controversy. What really counts as ‘British’? What constitutes a British Classic? Where’s Land of Hope and Glory and God Save the King? None of these question bother me, and I think Faber have done a fab job selecting a range of pieces representing not only all four corners of Britain, but also many different styles of pieces from composers spanning hundreds of years. This is, after all, not 1953 again.

The arrangements are effective, although once again, the arrangers aren’t credited. I suspect that some arrangements are duplicated from other books, but I see no harm in this. This is a series where the books are as beautiful to look at as the music is to play, and that’s why, once again, I think British Classics would make a great gift. This is a series which I for one, will enjoy collecting.

A great, varied selection of pieces, effectively arranged, excellent value, and beautifully presented. What more could we ask for?

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The Piano Player: British Classics is published by Faber Music, ISBN 9780571541690, RRP £9.99.

I was sent a review copy of this book free of charge; however, this review is my honest opinion as a teacher. You can find my Reviews Policy here.

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