James Rhodes

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James Rhodes is the latest enfant terrible of British music, originally with a punk look and attitude that got him signed to a rock label. Now he's on his own label, called Instrumental, and a somewhat toned-down look. But he still has a desire for direct communication with audiences, manifested among other things by his composition of his own booklet notes. He should hire an editor for these; Beethoven's Piano Sonata in D major, Op. 28 ("Pastoral"), was written in 1801, not 1821. The irony in this and other Rhodes releases is that, for all his unconventional airs, his recital programs are old-fashioned in the extreme. Several begin with very heavily pedaled Bach; this one proceeds through Beethoven and Chopin, to end with transcriptions of Gluck and Schumann (the latter by Liszt) that would have been much more often heard on a recital of a century ago than today. There is nothing wrong with this as long as performers have the chops for it, which Rhodes assuredly does. The ultra-Romantic Bach Partita No. 1 in B flat major, BWV 825, will be a bit much for some listeners, but Rhodes has both a coherent concept -- he thinks of Bach as a kind of sexy rebel -- and a very light touch that brings something new to each ornamented repeat. The Beethoven and the pair of substantial Chopin works are actually comparatively more straightforward, with a clear, sustained melodic flow. Perhaps the biggest delight is the pair of transcriptions at the end. "Piano transcriptions are something of a dying art and I have always loved them, even if I'm too lazy and untalented to arrange them myself," Rhodes writes, and the attitude is typical of both the virtues and the weaknesses of his approach. Even sans major-label support Rhodes gets superior engineering work at the Wyastone Estate concert hall. For those curious about the Rhodes phenomenon, this is a reasonable place to start.

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