Wednesday, 16 August 2017

CD Review (The Straits Times, August 2017)

Vol.1 / Somm Recordings 0124 / *****
Vol.2 / Somm Recordings 0149 / ****1/2

Billy Mayerl (1902-1959) is an almost forgotten name in classical music, his legacy hanging on a few short piano pieces that fall under the category of “novelty piano” or “syncopation” such as Marigold and Honky Tonk. He was often known as the “English Gershwin”, and had been entrusted by George Gershwin himself to give the British premiere of Rhapsody in Blue in 1925. 

These two discs give a good idea of Mayerl's casual and leisurely style of ragtime jazz, music of a bygone era which basks in infectious rhythms, delicious blues and occasional wicked harmonies.

The works are either stand-alone numbers, like the wistful Evening Primrose, the busily virtuosic and onomatopoeic Railroad Rhythm, the Chopinesque nocturne Shallow Waters and the toccata-like Robots (with the possibly influence of Prokofiev), or come in suites of three to five pieces. 

Volume One contains the Aquarium and Puppets Suites, while Volume Two accounts for Insect Oddities, The Big Top Suite and the faux-Orientalism of Three Japanese Pictures. Irish pianist Philip Martin, who has previously done sterling work with Louis Gottschalk's music, is a most stylish and idiomatic interpreter. In short, he's got that swing.

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