Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Notes from an honest and courageous journey

In his 2015 memoir Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication and Music, pianist James Rhodes introduces each chapter with a piece of music that’s special to him, beginning and ending with the Aria to the Goldberg Variations played by Glenn Gould (the 1955 version to start, and the 1981 recording at the end). In between Rhodes has chosen other great piano pieces, but also concertos and choral, orchestral and chamber music that has special meaning for Rhodes at different times of his life. All of the music is available as a free Spotify playlist: you can listen at

This new CD from Instrumental/Signum Records is made up of another, similarly personal, playlist: music that Rhodes chose from the five albums he’s recorded since Razor Blades, Little Pills and Big Pianos came out in 2009. While there are other composers (Rachmaninoff and Beethoven included), it’s Chopin and Bach that make up the bulk of this compilation. And it’s the Busoni arrangement of the Bach Chaconne from the 2nd Violin Partita that’s the emotional centre of this disc. When he first heard the work as a child he felt that it “acted like a force field” against distress, and it became a talisman of healing throughout his life. In his book Rhodes quotes Brahms: “On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings.” Rhodes expresses some of Bach’s thoughts and feelings in this performance, while adding a whole world of his own. There is so much pain underlying Rhodes’ Chaconne, but real transcendence as well. This project reflects a personal and artistic journey that Rhodes is undertaking with a special extra degree of difficulty: having it all happen in the glare of mass and social media. His artistry is matched by unswerving honesty and amazing courage. I look forward to many more albums and books from James Rhodes. And, of course, many many more tweets.

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