It’s a red-letter day to have William Bolcom’s Rags recorded as an entity, in great sound, too, courtesy of producer Judith Sherman and her assistant engineer Jeanne Velonis from January & March last year in Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts. Bolcom, born in 1938 (sharing with John Corigliano, Frederic Rzewski and Joan Tower, et al), is one of America’s Finest, a composer impossible to pigeonhole for his range of genres (including Symphonies and Operas, and his ambitious William Blake settings in the evening-length Songs of Innocence and of Experience) as well as his wide interest in, and performance of, music outside of what we generally call Classical.
His Rags, there are twenty-four of them (one being a collaboration with William Albright), are gems, very much the equal of Scott Joplin’s, and sometimes reminiscent of him, and there are also Gershwin-esque turns of phrase, and I imagine correspondences with other jazzy/raggy composers—but the thing about Bolcom is whatever he absorbs as an influence he puts back as himself, just as Stravinsky did.
Bolcom’s a fine pianist, too, so the writing is idiomatic, gratefully seized upon by Marc-André Hamelin who plays these upbeat, sentimental and whimsical, laidback and scintillating, unfailingly tuneful pieces not only with virtuosity but also insouciance and relish that transmits itself openly to the listener revelling in the sheer variety of Bolcom’s invention, not least (pun intended) the haunting Graceful Ghost. For contrast try Raggin’ Rudi. Each number has an intriguing/alluring title.