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Scott JOPLIN (1868-1917)
Piano Rags

Maple Leaf Rag
Heliotrope Bouquet
Pine Apple Rag
Paragon Rag
Pleasant Moments; Ragtime Waltz
Elite Syncopations
Original Rags
Fig Leaf; A High Class Rag
The Entertainer
The Easy Winners
Country Club Rag
The Strenuous Life
Bethena; A Concert Waltz
Alexander Peskanov (piano)
Recorded at the Performing Arts Centre, The Country Day School, Ontario, July 2002
NAXOS 8.559114 [65.29]


Joplin’s Rags are malleable enough creations to withstand a variety of approaches. Strict classicists, who adhere to the letter, number Joshua Rifkin; out and out jazzers such as Marcus Roberts have gone on record with more inflammable results. Alexander Peskanov adheres rather more to Rifkin’s approach whilst still retaining individuality, although sometimes at the expense of propriety. Peskanov, who was born and studied in the Ukraine, and later at Juilliard, is also a composer and one senses in his decorations, fills, and occasionally idiosyncratic approach to tempi a composer’s touch at work.

I liked his pleine air approach to Pine Apple Rag and the way he turns on the heat in the final bars of Paragon Rag (something of a bravado flourish in which he indulges throughout the disc). I’d not heard Country Club Rag before and Peskanov certainly brings out the cocky varsity rhetoric lying naughtily at its heart, And the Concert Waltz, Bethena, much the longest of these pieces, benefits from his concern for form and for decorum, even if it does outstay its welcome in a performance as slow as this one. And yet there are times when he follows in too studied a way. Solace could do with some Dick Hyman vitality (when is his set going to be issued on CD?) – despite Peskanov’s indulgence in unmarked ritardandos and a smattering of other romantic devices it’s still too slow and not romantic enough. Of course Joplin was famous for his admonition to play Rags slowly – but they shouldn’t, it seems to me, sound too slow. Yes, his playful rubati in a joyous masterpiece such as Elite Syncopations are titillating in the extreme and it’s true that his phrasing melts deliciously in The Strenuous Life but he ambles through Pleasant Moments – until he over compensates at the end with a mighty ride-out flourish - and some of the espressivo parts of The Strenuous Life, do, on second hearing sound just too ripe. As for Maple Leaf Rag he takes it fast – though no one has ever taken it as fast as Sidney Bechet and his (collectively inebriated) Feetwarmers back in 1932 – with some doublings to thicken the texture.

The recital has been attractively and sympathetically recorded with decent notes and documentation. Mixed views about Peskanov’s playing then – much is warm and understanding but some of the playing lacks a sense of vitality and verve.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Patrick Gary

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