Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Scoredaddy's: Richard Ryan Reviews 'Joshua Rifkin: Scott Joplin Piano Rags'

["Scott Joplin Piano Rags"; Joshua Rifkin, piano; Nonesuch 79159 (1990)]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Review by Richard Ryan
“I don't know what I can say about this CD that hasn't already been said, but it's so good that I'll try to add my own two cents. Although he's primarily a Baroque music scholar, Joshua Rifkin (however unintentionally) pretty much spearheaded the Joplin revival in the '70s, and this CD reveals that even after thirty-plus years his recordings are still the best. The emotional content on this CD is incredible not only for its depth, but for its variances; Rifkin subtly varies his playing style strain by strain, and in some cases even measure by measure, to capture the ever-changing moods of each rag. Many performers of Joplin play each piece with the same style and approach throughout, resulting in an emotionally flat experience that sounds like 'a bunch of saloon music.' Rifkin, conversely, obviously has a keen understanding of what feeling each rag is trying to convey, resulting in a CD that gives us a fresh, new sound with each track while displaying the subtle brilliance and Classical influence of Joplin's music as a whole.“Rifkin's best attribute by far, however, is his understanding of Joplin's 'Prime Directive' regarding his pieces: 'It is never right to play “ragtime” fast.' Unlike other Joplin performers, who seem to use Joplin's works more as flashy showpieces than as music of any real depth, Rifkin doesn't let his ego get in the way of what the music is trying to convey. He's experienced enough to restrain his tempi and play each work on this CD in a relaxed, flowing manner, providing us a chance to truly hear and appreciate the individual notes and rhythms that make up each rag while still maintaining the music's emotional power and vivacity.” (Scott Joplin (1868-1917) was a Ragtime and Classical composer and pianist of African descent who is profiled at AfriClassical.com)
Comment by email: "I would agree with that. I would also say that there is a challenge out for another pianist to do even better. Rifkin did Joplin's music a great favor and if performers could give such illuminating performances of some of the works by other composers of African origin or descent, perhaps their music would become mainstream too. Joplin's rags are not in themselves 'exceptional' music but Rifkin's performance was. The challenge is there!!! Mike S. Wright"

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