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Fire on All Sides
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Well-Tempered Clavier, BWV 846 No. 1, Prelude in C Major (1722) 1:52]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Fantasie in F Minor, Op. 49 (1841) [12:38]
Polonaise-Fantasie in A-Flat Major, Op. 61 [12:33]
Nocturne, Op. 62 No. 1 in B Major [8:21]
Nocturne, Op. 48 No. 1 in C Minor [6:29]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-Flat Major, Op. 110 (1821-22) [20:01]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Etudes-tableaux, Op. 39 No. 5 in E-Flat Minor (1916-17) [4:54]
Prelude No. 13, Op. 32 No. 13 in D-Flat Major [5:23]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Gianni Schicchi O mio babbino caro arr. Yvar Mikhashoff [2:50]
James Rhodes (piano)
rec. 2016, Britten Studios, Snape Maltings

In true egalitarian fashion James Rhodes calls this disc the soundtrack to his book Fire on All Sides about which, he says, ‘like every other area of my life, it’s heavily based on fantasy.’ How far we can take this, I’m not sure but his introduction to the disc is a brief paragraph and the booklet is a small fold-out poster and it’s not telling us anything. Given, though, that he has been so explicit about his life one can hardly expect a treatise about the selected works, given that the selected composers are central to his repertoire.

Starting his disc with the opening Prelude of the WTC is, in some ways, a gesture of sublime simplicity and his touch is, as so often, beautifully balanced and warmly textured. The level of personalisation as to rubato is very much a matter of taste. From his Chopin repertoire he plays two Fantasies and two Nocturnes. His view of the Fantasie in F minor is, in places, strangely inconsequential and subject to some animated rushing of bars and though its companion, the Polonaise Fantasie in A flat major is very beautifully played in large stretches there are vagaries of phrasing that announce his very individual slant on this repertoire. Of the Nocturnes it’s that in C minor, Op 48/1 that emerges less successfully. The basic tempo is slow, but it sounds significantly slower still because of the relatively inert nature of his phrasing.

The centrepiece of the programme is Beethoven’s Op.110 sonata and it shows him at something like his best. The drama and the caprice of the writing are alike respected. The opening movement is treated with an appropriate weight of expressive introspection, the central movement is rhythmically alert, and the complexities of the finale are well surmounted. When he takes on Rachmaninoff the results are less persuasive The Etude Op.39/5 is strangely strenuous and the Prelude in D flat minor is only haphazardly effective. He closes the programme with an arrangement by Yvar Mikhashoff of O mio babbino caro, a rather cutesy if heartfelt way to take his leave in a disc that strikes me as rather less successful than the last album of his I reviewed.

Jonathan Woolf


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