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Syncopated musings DDA25220
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Syncopated Musings
Rags, concert waltzes, and novelties for the pianoforte by Scott Joplin and his collaborators
Marilyn Nonken (piano)
rec. April 2021, James M Dolan Recording Studio, New York University
DIVINE ART DDA25220 [67:57]

Marilyn Nonken focuses in her latest disc on the Ragtime music of Scott Joplin and his collaborators. It charts a decade’s worth of compositions in a search to extract a greater expressive weight than has perhaps been heard before and to that end she has selected a broad range of pieces, half of which are Joplin’s and half collaborations.

I wouldn’t say that Joplin performances are necessarily susceptible to interpretative extremes but when they’re played with the monomaniacal didacticism of Joshua Rifkin – whose Heliotrope Bouquet lasts six excruciating minutes – they can emerge broken-backed and damaged beyond repair. Nonken is a far saner interpreter though she’s not as full of swagger as Richard Zimmerman in his Murray Hill traversal of the (then) Complete Works back in the mid-70s.

Eugenia is notable for its long bridge passage, possibly the first in his Rags, which both Nonken and William Albright (Nimbus) take very well, though I still retain a soft spot for Zimmerman’s staccati, which are subtly deployed. Nonken, however, proves up to the challenge of that rhythmic study Stoptime Rag, catching its wit.

Joplin’s collaborations with the young Scott Hayden show the prodigy’s propensity for lyrical long lines and Felicity Rag is more - as it were - felicitous at Zimmerman’s tempo than Albright’s. Nonken splits the difference but there is still something fresh and vivid in Zimmerman’s reading. Nonken tends to be tonally rather hard-edged in Kismet Rag, a fine choice of repertoire, nonetheless. Joplin’s collaboration with Arthur Marshall shows Marshall’s extrovert compositional qualities. In theory I applaud her reading of the famously beautiful Bethena, a concert waltz. It requires constant syncopation throughout and Nonken takes a fine, forward-moving tempo though at some cost tonally and in respect of phrasing. Zimmerman phrases the more lovingly.

Antoinette, a march and two-step, reminds me of Jelly Roll Morton’s almost contemporaneous absorption of the music he heard in the French Opera house in New Orleans – though the discrete use each man made of the music is what set apart Joplin and Morton. Solace is a favourite amongst jazzers, for whom it offers improvisational opportunities not always evident in other Rags. Take a listen to Soprano Summit’s version featuring that expert and inspirational Rag performer – amongst many other assets – Dick Hyman. Zimmerman plays with a greater latitude when it comes to rubati, but Nonken plays it rather straighter.

The music has been thoughtfully selected, and the collaborations with Hayden and Marshall take prime position, alongside those of Joplin himself. The performances are largely convincing, though at times inclined to be hard-edged – whether because of the performer or the recording I wouldn’t like to say – and sometimes, in her eagerness to stress its status, Nonken can downplay its sheer joyfulness.

Jonathan Woolf
Scott JOPLIN (1868-1917) – Louis CHAUVIN (1882-1908)
Heliotrope Bouquet (1907) [4:29]
Joseph LAMB (1887-1960)
Sensation arr. Scott Joplin (1908) [2:35]
Eugenia (1906) [4:49]
Stoptime Rag (1910) [2:39]
Magnetic Rag (1914) [4:51]
Scott JOPLIN - Scott HAYDEN (1882-1915)
Sun Flower Slow Drag (1901) [3:49]
Something Doing (1903) [3:39]
Felicity Rag (1911) [3:58]
Kismet Rag (1911) [3:13]
Scott JOPLIN – Arthur MARSHALL (1881-1968)
Swipesy (1900) [4:04]
Lily Queen (1907) [3:41]
Binks' Waltz (1905) [3:59]
Bethena; concert waltz (1905) [5:11]
Pleasant Moments (1909) [3:20]
Antoinette - March and Two-Step (1906) [3:04]
Solace (1909) [5:59]
Reflection Rag - Syncopated Musings (1917) [4:30]

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