Bullets & Lullabies

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Alkan,Beethoven,Blumenfeld,Brahms,Chopin,Debussy,Grieg,Moszkowski,Rachmaninov & Ravel
LABELS: Warner
WORKS: Piano works by Alkan, Beethoven, Blumenfeld, Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, Grieg, Moszkowski, Rachmaninov & Ravel
PERFORMER: James Rhodes (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 52498358328


James Rhodes pleads with us to buy his new CD, but he insists on our applying an unusual yardstick. As audiences know, he has used pianism to rescue himself from depression and drugs, and he presents his performances as part of his ongoing therapy.

Casually dressed and deploying foul-mouthed charm, he does seem to be attracting a new public for classical pianism, so he serves a purpose, and his liner-notes for this new double-CD reinforce the point. Its aim, he says, ‘is to give you an idea of what it’s like to live in my head for 24 hours’, and it could as easily have been entitled ‘Uppers and Downers’ or ‘Cocaine and Benzos’. 

Kicking off with what he calls ‘the triple espresso of piano music’, he gives a careful account of Ravel’s ‘Toccata’, and one can’t help but wish for a real virtuoso at the controls for the Moszkowski piece which comes next. In the first CD one is constantly aware of his (successful) efforts to deliver these finger-twisters accurately, but his sound tends towards shallowness, and his pedalling in the Chopin obfuscates.

Only the Beethoven comes across as it should. But as he’s a born classicist, the ‘lullabies’ which should beguile don’t: there’s no point playing Ravel’s Pavane with a hard and heavy touch. But ‘Clair de lune’ emerges beautifully, and the Brahms intermezzo has noble grace. 


Only three stars on the conventional scale, then, but for Quixotic heroism he gets the full five. Michael Church