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Rhapsody (Martin James Bartlett)

Martin James Bartlett (piano); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Joshua Weilerstein (Warner Classics)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue etc; Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini; Wild: 7 Virtuoso Etudes after Gershwin
Martin James Bartlett (piano); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Joshua Weilerstein
Warner Classics 9029643433   67:48 mins


In 2014 the then 17-year-old pianist Martin James Bartlett won BBC Young Musician of the Year with a thrilling account of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. A year later he made his Proms debut to equal acclaim with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Now he has brought the rhapsodies together, making a commanding, lyrical case for their affinity on his second album for Warner Classics.

It’s a joyful display, full of warmth, character and the singing tone that Bartlett has come to be known for. His staunch partners the London Philharmonic Orchestra perform with an invigorating freshness under conductor Joshua Weilerstein. The emphasis is on spontaneity rather than virtuosity for its own sake, with an elastic rapport between orchestra and soloist – or soloists, with clarinettist Benjamin Mellefont a bluesy treat in the Gershwin.

Indeed a spirit of the blues permeates the album, drawing threads between the rhapsodies through a jazzy turn of phrase here, a colourful interjection there – and through a canny selection of solo piano pieces and transcriptions which highlight a continuum between Rachmaninov’s songs and Gershwin’s American Songbook, via the pianist-composer Earl Wild.

Two Etudes from his 7 Virtuoso Etudes after Gershwin complement wonderfully his transcriptions of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise and ‘Where Beauty Dwells’, Op. 21 No. 7. Bartlett is especially tender in the latter and Gershwin’s The Man I Love – while a romping Polka de W.R. finds its bouncy equivalent in I Got Rhythm. Great stuff.

Steph Power

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