James Rhodes: Razor Blades, Little Pills, Big Pianos

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Big Pianos,Collection: Razor Blades,Little Pills
LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Works by JS Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Moszkowski and JS Bach/Siloti
PERFORMER: James Rhodes (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 153

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To cut it in the modern market-place, every new pianist needs a gimmick: Rhodes has been sold on the childhood trauma, booze, drugs, and attempted suicide which have characterised his life so far. Hence the title of this debut CD, and hence the rubric – ‘a biographical expression of [his] complex and unorthodox journey’ – on its cover.

‘Make allowances’ is the implicit message to critics, as though the whole thing is primarily for his benefit rather than ours, but, since listeners are buying the music not the life, that message is not relevant.

And it’s not even needed: as his flawed hero Nigel Kennedy once was, Rhodes is a fine musician. His performance of Bach’s fifth French Suite is a delight, with the pace measured, a warm and bell-like tone throughout, and the ornamentation nicely controlled.

Rhodes finds a way through the oblique and mysterious Loure which is absolutely fresh, and the Gigue has force and grace. His Beethoven feels fresh too: the dramatic contrasts of the first movement are underplayed, but the textures are limpid, and the Rondo goes its own sweet way.

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The Chopin has nobility, but where it should become incandescent, it only half fires. The Chaconne has the requisite spacious grandeur, and ‘Etincelles’ dazzles as it should. But what lingers in the mind from this heterogeneous display is a tenderly expressive touch. Michael Church