Razor blades, little pills and big pianos
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
French Suite No.5 in G, BWV 816 [20:10]
Prelude in B minor arranged Alexander Siloti [3:19]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) ó Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Partita for violin No.2 ó Chaconne in D minor (1720 arr. 1893) [15:51]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata in E major, Op. 109 (1820) [13:52]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Ballade No.4 in F minor Op.52 [12:15]
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854 1925)
Etincelles Op.35 No.6 [3:05]
James Rhodes (piano)
rec. June 2008, Potton Hall, Suffolk
ABC CLASSICS 476 4596 [68:42]
James Rhodesí disc was first released on Signum 153, but itís been licensed to ABC who issue it unchanged typographically, and in every way except their name on the disc alongside that of Signum.
Thereís 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 Ďmaverickí nature. But Iíll leave the questions of his biography ó drugs, and self-harm ó 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 responseómore romantic, if you will. This reaches its height in the daringly extended Sarabande which he clearly locates as the workís beating heart. Still, the Gavotte doesnít lack for wit, or the Gigue a necessary voltage.
Hyphenated Bach in the shape of Busoniís recasting of the Chaconne sits well under Rhodesís 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 musicís manifold difficulties. Itís 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 Chopinís Fourth Ballade somewhat unevenly. Much is lovely, not least his touch, and the poetic sense of the musicís 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.
Iíll leave the questions drugs and self-harm to one side and concentrate on his music-making which is consistently impressive.