In the first part of the 20th century
music was undergoing radical shifts. In Europe there was an exploration of atonal writing in the form of serialism,
expressionism and other avant-garde explorations. However in
the Americas a quieter rhythmic revolution was
happening. The United States
gave birth to ragtime, leading on to jazz, while South
America was inventing the tango. Throughout
the lifetimes of both of these musical traditions, there have
been periodic cross-pollinations which reinvigorated each art
form. In this collection the goal was to display the early formation
of these related styles through the piano works of three early
Throughout this CD there is an easy flow between
the selections regardless of their hemisphere of origin. It
is quite interesting to note the similarity in tonal vocabulary
these early tangos and rags. While the syncopation is different,
being derived from different sources, there is an evident kinship.
As many of the early keyboard tangos are not often performed,
that could come as a bit of a surprise to some. Then again,
many of the ragtime pieces are no longer standard repertoire,
so it is likely that most will come to this music without much
of an expectation.
Today it is mostly Scott Joplin that is remembered
from the ragtime pantheon. He was not the only practitioner
of the art form though, and James Scott is today widely recognized
among musicologists as the 2nd master of the art
form. Similarly Joseph Lamb left a collection of many of the
most distinctive and complex rags ever written. In his music
one can find the influence of Chopin as often as Joplin. Likewise Ernesto Nazareth was influenced
by a love of Chopin’s music, and in the realm of tangos for
piano he must be held in similar esteem to Joplin. His music spread to Europe, setting off the World War I craze for dancing the maxixe,
and later gained further popularity through a multi-track recording
by Britain’s Steve Race. That said, none of
these names are likely to be widely recognized anymore. This
exposes the obvious need for solid performances of these works
if these pieces are not to be lost to history.
It appears that Joshua Rifkin is the type of
musician who has the musical understanding needed to reacquaint
the modern listener with ragtime and early tangos. He’s able
to play each work with the energy and exuberance the genre demands.
There is a great delicacy and expressiveness to this music that
often is ignored, as the performer simply plays the notes in
imitation of a mechanical player-piano. Here Rifkin refutes
the suggestion that this music should have been relegated to
such 2nd class status, and breathes life into the
works that too often feel musty and old.
He’s also obviously able to play the most challenging
works of the genre without difficulty. He does exactly what
one should do with this type of music: he makes it sound both
fun and easy. His left-hand stride technique is effortless,
and the intricate rhythms of the tangos are very nicely interpreted.
The most difficult of the pieces are probably the later works
by Nazareth, and these are all very well performed.
The recording is generally well done, and the
liner notes do a good job of giving the historical context.
As Joplin’s works are so familiar, their exclusion
is actually a boon. There is a tendency to want to always include
the most familiar works of a genre in any compilation of this
kind. By excluding them here the listener is given the opportunity
to go far deeper into the pantheon of the music, gaining a depth
of knowledge and exposure that really begins to flesh out the
understanding. Additionally the exclusion of Joplin gives the listener a chance to lend
a fresh ear to this type of music. Considering the music, that
exploration is a lot of fun.
This is a good CD if one just wants some nice
piano music to listen to, either closely or as background music.
It also indulges an interest in pursuing a deeper knowledge
of piano music from the early 20th century, or in
the roots of jazz or Latin music. It should be noted that all
of these works are of a very early nature, and played as they
were intended: on a single piano. If someone wants a CD of dance
music they should look elsewhere. If what you’re looking for
is a collection of some very good piano performances of ragtime
or early tangos, this is definitely where it can be found.