CD Review | William Bolcom: The Complete Rags (Hyperion, 2022)

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William Bolcom: The Complete Rags
Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Hyperion, 2022

We are used to the virtuoso pianist Marc-André Hamelin unearthing rare treasures from the 19th and 20th centuries and playing them with his customary brilliance. This time, however, he eschews Leopold Godowsky, Nikolai Medtner and Samuil Feinberg for the U.S. composer William Bolcom, born in 1938.

Out on the British independent label Hyperion, Hamelin’s new album has him playing a repertoire he’s never tackled before: the ragtime music usually associated with the African-American Scott Joplin. Although now famous for The Entertainer, Joplin wasn’t always very well-known and, until 1967, the 29-year-old Bolcom had never heard of him. But the ragtime revival of the 1970s rediscovered a whole aspect of American music and the young composer, along with friends such as William Albright, stepped into the breach.

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By offering Bolcom’s ragtime music in its entirety, Hamelin throws us into an ambience worlds away from a straitlaced concert. It’s all about fun and relaxation—but without sacrificing expertise. His playing rushes and twirls with delicacy, doing admirable justice to rags like Tabby Cat Walk, with its long, dramatic pauses. Some are far from joyful; The Serpent’s Kiss, for example, has an unsettling quality, with a hint of cracking bones, as in a danse macabre.

It’s a world of joys, shocks and moments of sadness. Easy to become absorbed in these two CDs offering nearly 2¼ hours of music!

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

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About Author

Justin Bernard est détenteur d’un doctorat en musique de l’Université de Montréal. Ses recherches portent sur la médiation musicale, notamment par le biais des nouveaux outils numériques, ainsi que sur la relation entre opéra et cinéma. Membre de l’Observatoire interdisciplinaire de création et de recherche en musique (OICRM), il a réalisé une série de capsules vidéo éducatives pour l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Justin Bernard est également l’auteur de notes de programme pour le compte de la salle Bourgie du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal et chargé de cours à l’Université de Sherbrooke. Par ailleurs, il anime une émission d’opéra et une chronique musicale à Radio VM (91,3 FM).

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