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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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Scott JOPLIN

The Complete Rags, Marches and Waltzes

Nimbus NI 2546/48

[64:37 + 73:58 + 73:05]

 

 

    CD1
  1. Maple Leaf Rag
  2. Original Rag
  3. The Favorite
  4. The Easy Winners
  5. Peacherine Rag
  6. The Entertainer
  7. The Strenuous Life
  8. Elite Syncopations
  9. A Breeze From Alabama
  10. Palm Leaf Rag
  11. Weeping Willow
  12. The Cascades: A Rag
  13. The Sycamore
  14. The Chrysanthemum
  15. Leola
  16. Eugenia
    CD2
  1. Ragtime Dance
  2. Nonpareil
  3. Reflection Rag
  4. Gladiolus Rag
  5. Searchlight Rag
  6. Rose Leaf Rag – A Ragtime Two Step
  7. Pineapple Rag
  8. Fig Leaf - ‘A High-Class Rag'
  9. Sugar Cane
  10. Country Club Rag
  11. Paragon Rag
  12. Wall Street Rag
  13. Euphonic Sounds
  14. Solace
  15. Stoptime Rag
  16. Scott Joplin’s New Rag
  17. Silver Swan Rag
  18. Magnetic Rag
    CD3
  1. The Crush Collision March
  2. Harmony Club Waltz
  3. Combination March
  4. Swipesy
  5. Augustan Club
  6. Sunflower Slow Drag
  7. Cleopha
  8. March Majestic
  9. Something Doing
  10. Bethena (A Concert Waltz)
  11. The Rosebud March
  12. Binks Waltz
  13. Antoinette
  14. Heliotrope Bouquet ‘A Slow Drag Two-Step'
  15. Lily Queen
  16. Pleasant Moments - ‘Ragtime Waltz'
  17. Felicity Rag
  18. Kismet Rag

William Albright (piano)
rec. December 1989, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfresboro and June 1992, West Georgia College, Carrollton

 

The composer and performer William Albright (1944-1998) set down this three CD set of Joplin’s piano music in two sessions separated by a gap of two and a half years.

His cycle is urbane in the best sense, and he takes pains to bring out voicings that some other practitioners tend to skate over. He keeps to Joplin’s dictum about playing Rags sedately; he’s certainly no speed merchant. Sometimes he can vary voicings and there are a few detectable transpositions, but in the main he is a loyal exponent of the Joplin muse, and he was indeed a noted and practised exponent on disc and in recital. These three discs attest to his assiduous absorption in the medium.

In the first two discs the programme isn’t strictly chronological but it does broadly present a curve from 1899 and Maple Leaf Rag (of course!) to the New Rag of 1912 and finally the 1914 Magnetic Rag. Silver Swan Rag bisects these last two, having been published as late as 1971. In the third disc he goes back over the ground, going right back to The Crush Collision March of 1896 and forward to the co-composition with Scott Hayden of Kismet Rag (1913).

He certainly does probe the sense of classisicm that lies within The Favorite, and manages to evoke a saturnine left hand in The Strenuous Life. Pert rhythm informs A Breeze from Alabama, which ends with a chordal flourish. Meanwhile the quasi-operatic measures of Weeping Willow do not go unnoticed, even if it is described as yet another of his Two-Steps. Albright deals very well with the contrast of themes and dynamics in The Chrysanthemum. He is not deaf to the more saucy and pert elements of the writing either – I suppose The Ragtime Dance of 1906 is as good an example as any. Similarly one can appreciate in his performance of a less well known piece such as Searchlight Rag just what someone like Jelly Roll Morton admired in this body of work and how Morton could absorb Rags into his own repertoire.

Occasionally things go awry – Pine Apple Rag gets a bit too excitable I feel – but in the main he attends to the tenor and ‘feel’ of each rag judiciously, playing second themes with requisite attention to detail. His crashes in The Crush Collision March are certainly vigorous – they could hardly be anything else – but he also deftly hints at the Chopinesque in Harmony Club Waltz, one of Joplin’s more generic and gestural pieces. The salon roulades and statuesque B section of the Augustan Club Waltz are rather better. March Majestic has its vaudevillian moments, and the ever-lovely Bethena’s minor key tristesse works its accustomed magic. Antoinette is quite stern in this performance.

These well recorded performances were played on a Bosendorfer Imperial Concert Grand. Remember also that Albright and fellow composer-executant and Rag fan, William Bolcom, once recorded a shared LP – Bolcom played Joplin and Albright played James P Johnson. Albright’s performances here are fine on their own terms. Some may hanker rather for someone like Morten Gunnar Larsen in this repertoire or for the more famous cycle of Joshua Rifkin (Nonesuch). But I hanker most for Dick Hyman’s old 1975 RCA set. Though I came to the music comprehensively via Richard Zimmermann’s set, which I found in a Murray Hill box set in Sam Goody’s in NYC, it was Hyman’s recordings that most lit my fire, and I wish they was back in circulation.

Jonathan Woolf



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