Saturday, April 10, 2010

William Albright - Piano Rags (2002)

Classical music in the twentieth century - while boldly experimental, forward looking and original - has the disadvantage of being a largely humorless and unaccessible genre. Concert goers abandoned the symphony halls in droves, turning to jazz halls and rock venues for some respite from the tedium of serialism and aleatoric music that offered little in the way of memorable tunes. If you're sympathetic to these Art Music Blues, then William Albright may be just what the doctor ordered.

While he did compose his share of challengingly modern works, Albright never got over his infatuation with Scott Joplin and early ragtime. This collection offers a selection of sixteen of Albright's best rags composed between the late sixties and early eighties, but don't be too quick to write them off as merely nostalgic throwbacks. While the flavor of the 1890's is certainly present, no onewith any knowledge of music would mistkae these as belonging to that time. Inside the swinging rhythms, Albright throws in a slew of modern harmonies, technical challenges and bombastic tone clusters, which at times sound in danger of smashing the piano to bits.

The pianist, Nicola Melville, performs with grace as well as energy, never failing to bring out the humor of the music (yes, quite a few of these pieces are downright funny.) Titles like "Nightmare Fantasy Rag" and "Brass Knuckles" give you a pretty good idea of what to expect. Sudden tempo changes and rests in unexpected places keep the listener guessing and provide the music with a sencse of charm all to often lacking in the works of today's composers.

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