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Jonathan Woolf
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CD: Buywell

Blue Rags
Ian MUNRO (b.1963)
Blue Rags [15:02]
Elena KATS-CHERNIN (b.1957)
Four Rags for I.M. (c.1996) [11:30]
After Dinner Rag [1:59]
Get Well Rag (1998) [3:27]
Sunday Rag (1997) [4:24]
Cocktail Rag (c.2004) [2:59]
Revolving Doors [1:57]
Alexander Rag (1998) [2:47]
Zee Rag (1998) [2:32]
Ann GHANDAR (b.1943)
Ragtime Suite (1998-2002) [9:01]
Graham KOEHNE (b.1956)
Blues (1984) [4:59]
Dmitri YANOV-YANOVSKY (b.1963)
Silhouettes (2001) [16:59]
Ian Munro (piano)
rec. City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney, Australia. December 2005
TALL POPPIES TP186 [77:39]
Experience Classicsonline

Rags, but Rags with a difference. These composers have all been bitten by the rag bug but have subtly absorbed the infection and turned it to their collective advantage. The resultant disc, marshalled by Ian Munro who also contributes his own pieces to the revivified genre, is one of constant invention, unassuming wit and ear titillating sonority.
Let’s take Munro first since he is the executant hero. The first of his own five rags is dedicated to a modern master of the genre, William Bolcom, and it includes a brief but striking funky moment. Blues drenched melancholia haunts the second of the five whilst the third mines Railroad boogie but Zez Confrey’s shade also blows into town aided by Gershwin cadences. The fourth, Tromba Blues, is based on Rossini and is the most allusive, its reveille calls setting the agenda nicely. Chinoiserie tints colour the last but they’re not kitschy and it has its pile driver moments too.
I’ve enjoyed Elena Kats-Chernin’s music many times and there’s no let up on the enjoyment front here. Long resident in Australia she’s dedicated four rags to Munro and has written a number of others. Peggy’s Rag was written during a stay at the house left to composers in her will by that great composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks. Good to see a scholarly study of her music is forthcoming from Ashgate. And it’s typical of this wonderful woman that she willed her house in this way.  Like her, Kats-Chernin’s celebratory rag is life-affirming and has a brief but lovely filigree B section. Rug Rag reminds me a little of Dick Hyman’s rag playing – it’s quite symphonic. Russian Rag II is quite puckish whilst After Dinner Rag is couched more in gentle and deft salon style. Whereas Revolving Doors is a brief, limpid and rather sad piece. Zee Rag, admits the composer, is the least melodic – but it still has some fascinating patterns.
Ann Ghander comes from New England and her Suite has some indelibly exciting and tense moments. Verveful and ebullient – after a slow start – Rainy Day Rag gets riper and riper. And Railroad Rag, the last of the five, marries pliancy with power, evoking left hand railroad rhythms, and is not ashamed to pile up some Lisztian bravura or to end abruptly. Fun! Graham Koehne’s Blues was written for string quartet in 1984 but has been arranged for solo piano. Gershwin cadences haunt this. Finally there is Silhouettes by Uzbek composer Ditri Yanov-Yanovsky. Each is named after a composer and evokes their style; Stravinsky, Ravel or Gershwin - that’s what the rag is called, Ives, Shostakovich, Debussy and Schnittke. Stravinsky gets his crabbed ragtime style, the joint tribute to Ravel and Gershwin has pawky wit, Ives is wrong-footing and full of hymnal moments, duly shattered. Debussy’s isn’t much of a rag. Apparently there is a sixth movement dedicated to John Cage marked Quasi Ragtime – but you can guess why it’s not ‘played’ here. Anyway Ervin Schulhoff got there long before Cage’s 4’33” with his silent Dadaist hi jinks in the Five Pittoresken of 1919 – but let’s not get side-tracked.
For broadminded auditors and for lovers of the malleable twistings of the classicised rag this is a delightful disc. Take it in short, direct, concentrated bursts, lights low, and allow the porous magic of the genre to work on your imagination.
Jonathan Woolf


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