James Rhodes

Razor Blades, Little Pills and Big Pianos

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Nothing in the packaging of this release explains the title razor blades, little pills, and big pianos, but it was accompanied by a burst of publicity outlining prior substance abuse on the part of British pianist James Rhodes. He seems to be aiming at occupying a niche like that carved out by the redoubtable Nigel Kennedy on the violin, with the unorthodox image balanced by playing that is competent and actually fairly straightforward. The program doesn't have anything to do with razor blades, consisting of a recital that avoids contemporary music and runs from Bach to the early twentieth century, which, in other words, is not just straight-ahead but downright conservative. In virtuoso pieces that lead him through prescribed channels, Rhodes does well. A special pleasure is the Etincelles, Op. 35/6, "Sparks," of the unjustly neglected Moritz Moszkowski, and Rhodes also brings presence to a pair of Bach arrangements, the well-known Busoni Chaconne and the Prelude in B minor rendered into Romantic ecstasy by Russian pianist Alexander Siloti. The major works at the beginning of the program are less uniformly successful. Rhodes offers a pedal-heavy and reasonably lyrical Bach French Suite No. 5 , BWV 816, but the Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90, is a weak spot, with little personality in the profound opening movement. Can James Rhodes become a star of British classical music? It's probably a question that will be answered more on concert stages, and in marketing consulting offices, than on album releases like this one.

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