Robert Stickland

Rags to Riches: The Essential Hits of Scott Joplin

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Heretofore, there seem to have been two basic approaches to the piano music of Scott Joplin. There was the overtly virtuosic and rhythmically vivacious approach that stressed the cheerful fun of Joplin's music. And there was the overtly melancholic and rhythmically languorous approach that stressed the aching nostalgia of Joplin's music. With the release of this recording by Robert Strickland, there seems now to be a third approach to Joplin's music: indolence. Strickland seems to sight-read -- perhaps "sleepwalk" would be a better word -- through Joplin's music, missing the syncopations that make its rhythms bounce, missing the turns that make its melodies charm, missing the colors that make its harmonies enchant, and, worst of all, missing the joy in life that lets his music dance and sing. Nor does it help matters that Strickland's dull performance is matched by Intersound's dim sound. There have been dozens of better recordings of Joplin's rags, starting with Joshua Rifkin's superlative recordings for Nonesuch from the '70s.

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