RAZOR BLADES, LITTLE PILLS, BIG PIANOS

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

The title, the photos, and the booklet notes aim to position 34-year-old James Rhodes as classical music’s answer to Sid Vicious or Iggy Pop, an impression fueled by this pianist’s past struggles with drug abuse and self-mutilation, together with his determinedly “unclassical” platform manner. But listen without looking and you’ll discover a sensitive and imaginative artist with a lyrical gift and a bell-like keyboard touch. The Bach G major French Suite’s quicker movements evoke a fuller-bodied manifestation of Glenn Gould’s hair-trigger articulation, while the opening Allemande boasts inventive ornamentation in the repeats, and the slow-moving Sarabande oozes concentration and sustaining power. The Bach/Busoni Chaconne stands out for Rhodes’ steady deliberation and an insidious cumulative arc.

Conversely Rhodes’ flexible pulse throughout the Beethoven E minor sonata underscores the first movement’s points of tension and the second movement’s almost Schubertian melodic trajectory. Also note Rhodes’ uncommonly clear articulation of the first movement’s difficult, rapid rotary figurations.

The Moszkowski and Bach/Siloti encores exude old-school charm and mastery. My only quibble concerns Chopin’s Fourth Ballade, where Rhodes’ broad tempos and slightly discursive rubatos cause the music to ramble, in contrast to similarly subjective yet more cogently structured interpretations by Ivan Moravec and Claudio Arrau. All in all, this excellently engineered recital showcases an immensely talented pianist with something to say, and I look forward to hearing more.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: RAZOR BLADES, LITTLE PILLS, BIG PIANOS
Reference Recording: None for this collection

J.S. BACH - French Suite No. 5 in G major; Chaconne in D minor (arr. Busoni); Prelude in B minor (arr. Siloti)
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN - Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor Op. 90
FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN - Ballade No. 4 in F minor Op. 52
MORITZ MOSZKOWSKI - Etincelles Op. 35 No. 6

  • James Rhodes (piano)

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