Joplin The Complete Rags, Marches and Waltzes
3 CD SET
The story of Scott Joplin and his ragtime is one of happiness and melancholy, restlessness and rootedness aspirations achieved and hopes dashed. It is the story of a black artist’s struggle to find acceptance and recognition paradoxically in both black and white societies. It is about America’s South, Midwest and East; it is about opportunities, and lack thereof, for the recently emancipated black people. The story is about European, African and American music. It is about the international success of one seminal rag piece, about commercial appropriation and personal obscurity.
Over the fifteen or so years of creative activity represented on this set – the pieces have been arranged in the approximate chronological order of writing – we can hear the development of a body of literature as important as any produced by an American composer. There is not a weak piece in the lot, and the strongest compare well to the character piano miniatures of European masters, especially those in dance forms.
This compilation of Joplin's complete piano music (including collaborations) is performed by a member of one of the most American-minded music faculties in the USA. Albright is Professor of Music at Michigan, alongside Rich Crawford (former president of the American Musicological Society) and Jim Dapogny (editor of Jelly Roll Morton's piano works and jazz bandleader). His two colleagues represent the schism apparent in Albright's approach to performing Joplin, a Janus-like attempt to reconcile the concert-hall with the vernacular. The overall effect is rather jolly, even chirpy at times, but fails to capture the melancholy aspects of Joplin. I didn't care for the substitutions of lesser intervals for the minor thirds in the chromatic runs in Rag Time Dance, nor for the added triplets in the D section and transposition of left hand motifs to the right in the reprise of the C strain of Nonpareil. These liberties with the music make the set a very personal interpretation, straying some way from the sheet music, never more obviously than the breakneck Pine Apple Rag, which studiously ignores the composer's injunction: "Do Not Play This Piece Fast" and clips several seconds off immoderately speedy version.