Thursday, November 18, 2010

E. Power Biggs (1973) -Scott Joplin on the Pedal Harpsichord

Artist: E. Power Biggs
Album: Scott Joplin on the Pedal Harpsichord
Released: 1973
Label: Columbia
Quality: mp3 CBR 320
Size: 78 MB

“This LP should come as a surprise not only to those familiar with E. Power Biggs as an organist, but also to ragtime aficionados who associate this repertoire exclusively with the piano. For Biggs is performing a set of Scott Joplin compositions on a pedal harpsichord, specially made for him and incorporating three sets of bass strings which are played with the feet—just as they are on the organ. This enables the performer to sustain bass notes, while the left hand plays the off-beat chords, in a way which is impossible on the conventional harpsichord. It scarcely needs saying that Biggs demonstrates remarkable technical facility. What is more arguable is whether his approach always fits the material. Certainly he gives Joplin's melodic lines a suitably light and dancing quality in Elite Syncopations, Sunflower Slow Drag (actually a collaboration between Joplin and Scott Hayden) and Pine Apple Rag, but Maple Leaf Rag comes across as heavy and melodramatic, with the rhythms much too laboured. Similarly, Peacherine Rag, another early but attractive composition, sounds a little as though it were being played on a calliope. And the second strain of The Easy Winners is made to resemble The Ham) Lime Theme (or is it the Cafe, Mozart Waltz?) even more than usual. Most of the time, though, these are fascinating and agreeable interpretations with Biggs changing the textures cunningly in the repeats of various strains, using, in fact, the kind of discretion that seems called for. And it is pleasant to find a selection that does not consist entirely of the best-known Joplin compositions. I was especially delighted to discover Cleopha, a march and two-step which was a firm favourite with the Sousa Band, and The Strenuous Life. My only quibble concerns the inclusion of Binks' Waltz, not syncopated at all (unlike the delightful Bethena, which was published the same year—in 1905) but just a straightforward and really rather commonplace waltz.” C.F.

1. Original Rags;
2. Maple Leaf Rag;
3. Peacherine Rag;
4. Elite Syncopations;
5. Cleopha;
6. The Easy Winners;
7. Pine Apple Rag;
8. Binks' Waltz;
9. The Strenuous Life;
10. Sunflower Slow Drag


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