Razor Blades, Little Pills and Big Pianos” explores the emotive landscape that we call “life”. This debut recording is somewhat of a biographical expression of James Rhodes’s complex and unorthodox journey. It was Bach, Beethoven and Chopin; not Faith Hope and Charity, that offered him comfort.
“James Rhodes astonished me at his debut with his perfect playing. He has the naturalness of Nastase and the innocence of a music reader without formal education from childhood, and therefore unfettered by over-instructions. James will deservedly go far.”
Sir David Tang
"Apparently it was Bach, Beethoven and Chopin; not Faith, Hope and Charity’ that offered James Rhodes comfort, and all three composers are featured on his debut recital disc. From the outset, it is evident that Rhodes is a thoughtful and attentive pianist: Bach’s Fifth French Suite evinces an effortless sense of follow-through and clarity of line - witness the poise of the Sarabande or limpid eloquence of the Loure, though the other movements are hardy less perceptive. Beethoven’s E minor Sonata is an interesting inclusion - Rhodes hardly puts a foot wrong in the first movement (listen to the sense of anticipation during the transition to the reprise or the fatalistic calm of its coda), and if the ruminative essence of the second feels marginally over-projected, then the two movements are not wanting as a complementary whole.
The highlight, however, is Chopin’s Fourth Ballade, a particularly difficult piece to make cohere, and one in which Rhodes balances and integrates its distinctive but oblique succession of episodes and transitions so that an organic unity and, expressive roundness are never in doubt. Nor is there any lack of fine pianism in Busoni’s ageless transcription of Bach’s D minor Chaconne, though its initial understatement veers a little too much towards diffidence. It is only around the halfway mark that this performance really gets into its stride, building purposefully to an apotheosis that conveys tensile emotional strength without any hint of overkill. Rounding off the disc, the dexterity of Moritz Moszlowski’s Etincelles and the soulfulness of Bach’s B minor Prelude – given here in Alexander Siloti’s oncefamous transcription - are apposite encores in that they, extend the interplay of Classical and Romantic facets central to the programme as a whole. Along with an overview of the recital, the foldout booklet comes with eloquent testimonials from Bryce Morrison and John H. West, whose production (abetted by Mike Hatch’s engineering) has the focus and all-round perspective that Rhodes’s playing requires."
"The quirky punctuation on the sleeve is irritating and the diverse collection on the disc will not appeal to completist collectors, but as an emerging pianistic talent’s calling card this is impressive. The dance pulse of Bach, declamory drama of Beethoven and cantabile texture of Chopin are conveyed with conviction and dazzling technique." ****