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Scott JOPLIN (1868-1919)
Piano Rags

Maple Leaf Rag [3:11]
Heliotrope Bouquet: ‘A Slow Drag Two-Step’ [4:30]
Pine Apple Rag [3:42]
Solace: "A Mexican Serenade" [6:55]
Paragon Rag [3:59]
Pleasant Moments: "Ragtime Waltz" [4:05]
Elite Syncopations [3:59]
Original Rag [4:32]
Fig Leaf: ‘A High-class Rag’ [4:34]
The Entertainer: ‘A Ragtime Two-Step’ [4:42]
The Easy Winners [4:12]
Country Club Rag [3:59]
The Strenuous Life [5:16]
Bethena: ‘A Concert Waltz’ [7:53]
Alexander Peskanov, piano
Rec. Performing Arts Centre, Country Day School, King, Ontario, 22-24 July, 2002 DDD
NAXOS 8.559114 [65:29]


Scott Joplin is one of those rare, transcendent composers who in the popular consciousness fully embodies an entire genre. While he had ambitions to expand his musical influence, writing two operas and some folk ballet music, it is fair to say that his success outside ragtime was limited. Conversely, outside the brilliancy of Scott Joplin, the whole genre of ragtime seems to have been left to the past. Much like Bob Marley in the realm of Reggae, if one comes upon a piano rag that seems familiar, there is virtually no chance that it was not written by Scott Joplin. Thus it seems natural to collect his best known rags into a single recording, which is done here with better than average success.

The temptation for most performers when playing ragtime music is to accelerate the performance tempo in order to show off some level of playing virtuosity that these pieces could lend themselves to, but is actually quite out of character. Alexander Peskanov, the pianist on these recordings, largely resists that particular temptation and gives solid performances throughout. The Maple Leaf Rag, one of those omnipresent tunes in Western Culture, leads off the disc with an exuberance that seems to characterize the entire genre. The next several pieces show the proper restraint shown by someone who has educated themselves in the genre. Pine Apple Rag feels hurried at times, as if Peskanov really wanted to get to his favorite parts then linger lovingly over other passages. However his performances of Heliotrope Bouquet, Solace: "A Mexican Serenade", and Pleasant Moments: "Ragtime Waltz" are among the better examples of what characterizes a good ragtime performance. The music is treated with respect and admiration, not simply tossed off like so many notes.

Aside from The Maple Leaf Rag, the other pieces likely to be familiar to most listeners are Original Rag and The Entertainer: ‘A Ragtime Two-Step’ and The Easy Winners, both of which figured prominently into the soundtrack of the classic 1973 movie The Sting. Each of these is performed well, in a fashion that is both familiar and appropriate to the style. The Entertainer is probably the most famous rag ever, and as such could have been performed with an eye on remaking it, or perhaps been given a less-than-enthused performance. Luckily it is given the same respect and care accorded the rest of the album, and the end result is a fine performance. The Easy Winners also sounds much as it did in the movie rendition, which is probably a good thing.

The overall result of this album is an appreciation for the music of Scott Joplin. Alexander Peskanov does well recreating the music of the ragtime era. If one has any desire to find a good collection of ragtime music or to further explore the music of Joplin, this would be a good place to start.

Patrick Gary

 



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