Ragtime: The Music of Scott Joplin [Collector's Edition]

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It's hard to know what to make of the appearance of a three-disc set of Scott Joplin rags in a series of "music tins," most of which are directed at children. No booklet is included, and the performer is not even credited, nor are any performers, for there seem to be more than one. The metal box and cardboard CD insert are illustrated by one Hambone, described as a Creole Choctaw artist; several postcards bearing his work are also included. These depict Southern musical scenes, and they're actually very inventive even if not terribly appropriate to the Missourian and urban-oriented Joplin. So this collection, which originates in Quebec, is something of a random thing. That's true of the performances, as well, which seem to have originated in several different times and places. At least two pianos are used, and probably more, although it's hard to tell whether some of the rampant sonic shifts might be due to engineering alterations. Some of the rags are played as notated (which is what Joplin specified), some with small ornaments (which is how he actually played them himself), and some with alterations in melody and voice leading (not desirable). But all are straightforward, rather stolid performances that keep the tempo moderate; there aren't any novelty piano or jazz performances, which is to the good. On the other hand, the performer(s) miss the lyricism of works like the Gladiolus Rag (CD 3, track 6) and the tango Solace (CD 1, track 9). Euphonic Sounds (CD 1, track 10) is usually taken on the mellow side, but the vigorous performance here actually works satisfactorily. There are a few outright errors. In the Stoptime Rag (CD 2, track 1), where Joplin clearly indicates the player should stamp one foot all the way through, the foot-stamping is heard only during the music's silences. And the title of the Great Crush Collision march is given as Great Rush Collision. This was Joplin's very first published composition, and an advantage to the large selection of rags heard here is the inclusion of a group of early Joplin pieces (such as the sentimental A Picture of Her Face, a song here heard instrumentally) that are hard to find elsewhere. Despite such flashes of value, this is a slapdash effort, and one would be curious to know the copyright status of the only slightly altered logo from the film Ragtime (1981) that appears on the cover of the tin.

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