William Appling, ‘conductor, pianist and educator’, died in August 2008. He was a teacher at Western Reserve Academy in Ohio and as a performer was keen to explore contemporary American music. A booklet photograph shows him performing Rhapsody in Blue with Robert Shaw in 1962. His great love however remained Bach, and his decision to couple two such pieces with a selection by Scott Joplin was motored by his desire to promote the latter’s compositions, for which he felt a personal sense of identification.
Appling made this series of recordings toward the latter end of his long, twelve year fight with cancer. He’d been unable to pedal since 1996, after a hospital accident. The resultant performances of Joplin’s music certainly take to heart the composer’s stated desire never to take his music quickly. In fact they occupy a wholly different stance from those of, say, the composer-performer William Albright, whose ‘complete works’ three disc set has just been reissued by Nimbus. They also diverge strongly from the celebrated though controversial recordings of Joshua Rifkin, and the marvellous though, so far, in limbo Dick Hyman readings.
Appling’s performances are instead marked by very slow tempos, a stately, relaxed approach that bespeaks great affection and an almost wonderingly, lingering appreciation of the Joplin harmonies, strains and counter-melodic statements. This means that for some these readings will sound devitalised. Magnetic Rag for instance is seigniorial in its approach; Rifkin’s accents bite more tightly, whiles Albright’s breathless enthusiasm takes him to the cusp of acceptability in terms of promoting melody lines. Elite Syncopations rather lacks vitality and is rendered significantly less dramatic than others’ recordings, whilst Gladiolus Rag sounds rather short-winded, and unenergised. One should perhaps accept that Appling’s approach is his own, but that it’s a singular, very relaxed one.
His Bach shares some of these approaches too. The Italian Concerto has some rather didactic moments and is again reserved both in tempi and in a sense of terpsichorean accenting. The central movement doesn’t flow ideally and there’s a sense of internalisation, and reserve in the finale. The B flat partita again circumvents the dance based imperatives of the music, whilst favouring a rather horizontal approach.
Nevertheless it’s not unmoving to hear Appling’s unproblematically recorded Bach and Joplin, given what one knows of his biography.
Performances marked by a stately, relaxed approach that bespeaks great affection and an almost wonderingly, lingering appreciation… see Full Review