Gollywog’s Cakewalk Variations
Maple Leaf Rag
The Pan-Am Rag
The Saint Louis Rag
Wall Street Rag
Grace and Beauty
Handful of Keys
Rag, Lag and More Rag
Bruno Fontaine (piano)
Recorded April-May 2013, Hôtel de l’Industrie, Paris [80:02]
Forget any idea of Joshua Rifkin’s ‘original instrument’ approach to the Ragtime repertoire, much less ticklers of old who plied the trade on disc. French
pianist – as distinct from piano player, an appellation that suited Duke Ellington just fine – Bruno Fontaine has crafted this programme of rags into
‘concert pieces’. Already, I suppose, alarm bells are ringing. Just what is a Ragtime concert piece?
Quite often it includes some scrunchy dissonances, or interpolations from the classical repertoire – the last most of all. Is this an expansion, a
commentary, a post-modern piece of wit, or is it simply wrong? I don’t feel I should be the judge, more the prosecution for the defence in this respect. In
that spirit let’s see what Fontaine deems appropriate.
There’s a Ravelian start to Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose complete, in this busy performance, with An American in Paris quotation.
There’s the interpolation of snippets of the Canadian National Anthem into Maple Leaf Rag – you won’t need me to point out the connection but the
clue’s in the leaf. Swannee River turns up in Tom Turpin’s The Pan-Am Rag and Schumann’s Träumerei in Joseph Lamb’s American Beauty. By this time the formula, however varied, however sinuously insinuated into the music’s fabric, is beginning to wear just a bit
thin. The chordally rich Climax Rag sports a moment from I Can’t Give You Anything But Love but there’s no thematic connection or sense
that the idea is being explored for purely musical reasons; it’s a mere import. Its big splashy finish announces that this is not for purists of the genre;
these are, indeed, pièces de concert.
Turpin would assuredly have wanted his Ragtime Nightmare taken slower than the Hitchcockian tempo taken by the intrepid Frenchman. Fontaine
contributes his own piece, the typographically natty (but linguistically meaningless) OpéRagNight which is not a rag, and Rag, Lag and More Rag which is, I suppose. He does Rachmaninovian things to Waller’s Handful of Keys – from the Second Piano Concerto, if
you really want to know. There are also some classical things, a Satie Rag, and a hyphenated Debussy-Fontaine Golliwog’s Cakewalk Variations –
Gershwin is co-opted into this piece here too – after Fontaine has already given us unadorned Debussy.
I’m not quite sure who this disc is for. It’s not for purists and it’s not radical enough for revisionists. It’s all a bit too cutesy for me, but I did
admire the pianism.