Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano
CD review by Jack Rummel
(printed in the September 1990 issue of "The Rag Times").
Maple Leaf Rag Stomp / Original Rags / Palm Leaf Rag / Euphonic Sounds / Stoptime Rag / Magnetic Rag / I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say, St. Louis Tickle / Fingerbreaker / Poor Katie Redd / Wild Cat Blues / In A Mist / For Kansas City / For Molly Kaufmann / Morning Air / Troublesome Ivories.
I have been chastised on the pages of this publication for complaining that Scott Joplin is over-recorded. The antithesis of that condemnation is closer to the truth, namely that other composer are under-recorded. My lament is not that there is too much Joplin on compact disc, but that other equally notable composers are conspicuous by their absence. May I offer this CD as an example of what should be done and hope the other recording artists might pattern their choice of material after this one.
Morten Gunnar Larsen may well be the finest all-round ragtime pianist in the world today. When he issues a new recording, we should all run, not walk, to our nearest outlet to buy it. His mastery of the various idioms within ragtime borders on the unbelievable.
Joplin is well represented in the first six cuts. Larsen is famous for his Jelly Roll-styled Maple Leaf Rag it brought the 1990 Sedalia Festival to its feet. Original Rags and Euphonic Sounds both display a happy innocence, while Palm Leaf shows a stately haunting beauty that lesser pianists might have overlooked. Stoptime has the required tapping foot with each bell-like note in perfect time Magnetic starts with a dirge-like intro (is this a musical joke?), but then is taken at an appropriate moderate pace. Larsen's Joplin is sensitively performed, a loving homage to the Master.
The rest of this release is an eclectic ragtime assemblage, each style performed flawlessly. A down-and-dirty Buddy Bolden leads into a Jelly-like Tickle, both tunes sharing the same musical thought. Laresn takes the Fingerbreaker at unhuman speed, yet every note is perfect. Then, like a chameleon, he swings into Poor Katie Redd in the best "Eubiesque" tradition. Wild Cat Blues strides on out with tricks and licks you wouldn't believe, an amazing contrast to Bix's modenistic tone poem, In A Mist, which is given a reverently sensitive reading.
In the late 1970s, Larsen discovered the works of David Thomas Roberts and has included at least one on each album he has released since then. He is one of the few pianists today that is qualified to perform Roberts' technically demanding compositions and has earned significant respect from the composer. Two outstanding pieces are included here. In For Kansas City, Larsen makes this ebullient and highly complex folk rag (in the keys of five and six sharps) sound easy, while in For Molly Kaufmann, termed a "syncopated nocturne", he plays it with the full range of dynamics that the composer intended.
Two pieces by noted East Coast figures close the album. As is often the case, Willie The Lion Smith's compositions take on an inventive freshness when played by someone other than the composer. This is certainly true in Larsen's rendition. And what a tour-de-force ending Troublesome Ivories makes to a perfect album. The only thing missing is Eubie's "My, oh my!" but you'll add that yourself, along with other superlatives, once you've heard this compact disc.
Tasteful filagrees, richer bass figures and expanded octaves characterize the repeat sections on the classic rags. The legato is wonderful, but the staccatos are there, too, just where it seems they should be. Larsen's speed is amazing, yet his sensitivity in the ballad-like passages is equally amazing. This release gets my vote fo Recording Of The Year.
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