James Rhodes’ disc was first released on Signum 153, but it’s
been licensed to ABC who issue it unchanged typographically,
and in every way except their name on the disc alongside that
There’s been quite a deal written about Rhodes, and the disc
title, and fold-out booklet with its rock-star black and white
photographs, indicate his ‘maverick’ nature. But I’ll leave
the questions of his biography — drugs, and self-harm — to one
side, if I may, and concentrate instead on his music-making
which is consistently impressive.
He is a committed and articulate Bachian cleaving to a rather
more expressive response than many of his contemporaries. The
performance of the fifth French Suite is thoughtful and internally
consistent, wholly undoctrinaire and pianistic. He is not interested
in pecking clarity of articulation, preferring a more saturated,
richer tonal response—more romantic, if you will. This reaches
its height in the daringly extended Sarabande which he
clearly locates as the work’s beating heart. Still, the Gavotte
doesn’t lack for wit, or the Gigue a necessary voltage.
Hyphenated Bach in the shape of Busoni’s recasting of the Chaconne
sits well under Rhodes’s fingers. Whilst hardly effacing Michelangeli,
this is a digitally impressive, reserved approach. Rhodes is
not given to brazen bravura here, preferring instead to sculpt
a more measured path through the music’s manifold difficulties.
It’s certainly not without excitement.
He is as committed a Beethovenian as Bachian, it would seem.
His Op. 109 is well judged and well balanced. Moments of italicisation
are few, and moments of portent and lyricism many. He essays
Chopin’s Fourth Ballade somewhat unevenly. Much is lovely, not
least his touch, and the poetic sense of the music’s trajectory.
But conversely he tends to drive through the emotional apex
of the Ballade leaving an unsettled response.
We end with a charmer from Moszkowski in the shape of his Etincelles,
a Golden Age gem, and then, limpid and withdrawn, the Bach-Siloti
Prelude in B minor, which I happen to find somewhat heavily
phrased, though it does make for a symmetrical programme and
a relevant envoi.