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Most Remarkable

Jamaican pianist
Orrett Rhoden -
heard by
BILL NEWMAN

'... one of the finest on disc ...'

Orrett Rhoden performs works for piano by Galuppi, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Brahms, Ravel and Rhoden / Bob Marley. © 2011 Dexter Recordings

This is a double souvenir CD release dedicated to the memory of the pianist's beloved grandmother, Ida Lindo. 'Mama Ida', as she was affectionately known, enjoyed listenjng to Orrett Rhoden play the piano, hour after hour, and became one of his greatest critics and the most significant musical inspiration in his life. When Rhoden played, notably, for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, during a Jamaica visit in 1983, everyone stopped what they were doing and began listening.

Two important follow-ons stemmed from that auspicious event: first the documentary Elizabeth, The First Thirty Years, then the behind-the-scenes programme And the Queen Passed By. Both were produced by Jenny Barraclough, and later relayed to celebrate the Queen's birthday. The following year, in October 1984, Orrett Dexter Anthony Rhoden, born 2 January 1961, played Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1 at London's Barbican Concert Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Orrett Rhoden with the London Symphony Orchestra in October 1984
Orrett Rhoden with the London Symphony Orchestra in October 1984. Click on the image for higher resolution

His New York debut followed on at the Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, and then in 1986, American talk show host Joan Rivers invited him to appear as her guest.

Two cherished memories set the seal on his forthcoming career: An all-Chopin recital at Frederic Chopin's birthplace -- Zelazowa Wola, Poland, 1985, and the legendary Arthur Rubinstein's accolade: 'Some pianists are not musicians and some musicians are not pianists, but you, young man are both.'

Orrett Rhoden in the 1980s. Photo © Anthony Rogers
Orrett Rhoden in the 1980s. Photo © Anthony Rogers. Click on the image for higher resolution

Rhoden became a student of the late, great Jamaican teacher, Rita Coore, then had coaching from Rosalyn Tureck, Nina Svetlanova, Dr Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse, Maxine Franklin and Andrew Esterhazy.

This is no ordinary recorded recital. There is an appealing 'Old School' sound approach to everything on these CDs that denotes the performer's individual style and approach, and commands the close attention of listeners who find it hard to accept the staid approach of pianists firmly tied in to the purist tradition of playing, so lauded by critics who can only accept so-called original versions of music at the time of composition. In order to be creative, one has to be adventurous, instead. Sorry, chaps -- I go for the out and out Romantic every time. You discover a sense of freedom, listen to your own playing, find your particular niche, and go for it!

Orrett Rhoden at home in Jamaica in 2012
Orrett Rhoden at home in Jamaica in 2012. Click on the image for higher resolution

Rhoden obviously has no scruples: Sonata No 5 by the Italian Baldassare Galuppi reminds me of Scarlatti by Horowitz. The comparison may not be entirely accurate, but two pointers identify with his mode of approach: How does the music best sound, and what emotions are conveyed when you communicate with the listener. That magic word 'rubato' applies here, irrespective of time and origin.

Listen -- Galuppi: Andante (Sonata No 5 in C)
(CD1 track 1, 0:00-1:26) © 2011 Dexter Recordings:

I enquired of a composer whose latest work was being premiered at the Royal Festival Hall: Do you mind dissenters? 'No, I accept them without concern, every time'. The same applies here, and the music I listen to on these two discs immediately assures me that producer and engineer Tatyana and Mikhail Liberman, with subsequent remastering from Noel Gould, have captured the spontaneity of the music making.

Beethoven, while accepting Haydn's tuition, soon went in his own direction, and his Sonata 'Pathetique' Op 13 transcends the initial Grave which leads to the rich world of con brio, then continues with a sonorous Adagio cantabile before concluding with a riotous Rondo. Without rushing fences, Rhoden's rubato shaping of phrases gives a unique 'new concept' to his performance, testing the personality of the performer to the extent that if he 'feels' the urge to increase the tempi in the final climax, he will do so!

Listen -- Beethoven: Rondo (Pathetique Sonata)
(CD1 track 6, 3:04-4:19) © 2011 Dexter Recordings:

Mendelssohn's glorious Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso contains a rich vein of sound perspectives that delight the ear, while Ravel's Valses Nobles et Sentimentales banishes refinement to pour out a gush of cascading love and passion, like meeting an unexpected new partner for the first time!

Listen -- Ravel: Epilogue: Lent (Valses Nobles et Sentimentales)
(CD1 track 15, 0:00-1:10) © 2011 Dexter Recordings:

Rhoden's Chopin 'says it all', with the 'Octaves' Etude in B minor, Op 25, transcending fineries to plunge into the G minor Ballade as if the pianist wishes to set the world on fire! The Polish composer, although described as a gentle type pianist, was quite the opposite while composing. Here, his sound perspective takes on Wagnerian proportions, while the Mazurka Op 59 provides gentler relief with its stilted rhythmic gait.

I wondered about the positioning of Rhoden-Bob Marley-Chris Mayfield's One Love / People Get Ready, but it works!

Listen -- Rhoden -- Marley/Mayfield: One Love
(CD1 track 19, 0:00-0:48) © 2011 Dexter Recordings:

I have previously stated my reactions to the performance of Brahms' Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel -- a work much admired by myself. It brings back memories of Mark Hambourg's playing that I heard at the age of fifteen. Listen to the sudden quickenings of reply figures, which increases tension.

I think this is my personal choice as one of the finest on disc (London, 1986). Many of the decorative phrase turns are also superbly done, and the varieties of textural development have great imagination. The whole of the fugue section is most remarkable.

Listen -- Brahms: Fugue (Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel)
(CD2 track 27, 0:00-1:10) © 2011 Dexter Recordings:

For the true icing on the cake comes the final selection of Chopin pieces, beginning with the Impromptu No 1 in A flat, Op 29.

Listen -- Chopin: Impromptu No 1 in A flat, Op 29
(CD2 track 28, 2:50-4:10) © 2011 Dexter Recordings:

This is followed by Valse No 2 in F minor, Op 70; Trois Ecossaises, Etudes Nos 4 in C sharp minor Op 10 and No 9 in G flat major, Op 25. Finally the Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise Brillante, Op 22, and Nocturne No 2 in E flat Op 9 are both quite brilliant.

Copyright © 28 April 2012 Bill Newman,
London UK

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ORRETT RHODEN PERFORMS WORKS FOR PIANO

ORRETT RHODEN

BALDASSARE GALUPPI

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

FELIX MENDELSSOHN

FRYDERYCK CHOPIN

JOHANNES BRAHMS

MAURICE RAVEL

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