Spencer Myer

William Bolcom: Piano Rags

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After ragtime music enjoyed a revival of popularity in the 1960s, American composer William Bolcom contributed some new pieces to the genre. It's putting things too strongly to say, as the graphics here do, that these works "would organically interweave American popular music cultures into the fabric of concert music for decades to come"; in fact, these delightful pieces are underrepresented in concert and on recordings, and this recording by pianist Spencer Myer is welcome. Myer rightly makes the pieces into concert works, not showboat nostalgia, but he avoids the rhythmically denatured sound of Joshua Rifkin's Scott Joplin recordings. Bolcom approached classic piano ragtime in a variety of ways. He wrote pieces that approximated the models of Joplin and others (most of these are denoted by the title "Classic Rags," although these are not mere imitations). He wrote rags in programmatically related series. He expanded Joplin's harmonic vocabulary with elements drawn from Chopin and other composers. And, fascinatingly, he wrote pieces with traditional melodic and harmonic material that fool with register and attack as a serialist composer might have. Especially if you have a bit of familiarity with classic ragtime, you might sample Classic Rags "II: Epitaph," a lovely tribute to Creole composer Louis Chauvin, whose music for the most part was never written down and has been lost. Steinway & Sons, working in the Sono Luminus studios in Virginia, achieves an appropriate acoustic. This is an essential item for ragtime collections, and highly enjoyable for anybody.

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