James Rhodes – Love – Live in Concert in London (2014)

Performers: James Rhodes, piano
Program: RACHMANINOV: Prelude in C Sharp Minor, Op. 3 No. 2; Etude Tableau in E-Flat minor, Op.39 No.5 – SCHUMANN-LISZT: Widmung; PROKOFIEV: Montagues and Capulets; GLUCK-SGAMBATI:
Orfeo Melody; CHOPIN: Presto, from Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58;
Scherzo No. 2, Op. 31; DUDLEY MOORE: Beethoven parody; GRIEG-GINSBURG: In the Hall of the Mountain King 
Studio: Electric Light Studios/ Instrumental Records/Signum SIGDVD012 [10/14/14] (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 16:9 color
Audio: 5.0 multichannel, 24-bit 
Extras: BACH-MARCELLO: Adagio, from Concerto No. 3 in D minor, BWV 974; Interview with James Rhodes
No region code
Length: 87 min.
Rating: *****

Rhodes recorded this intimate concert at the Arts Theatre in the West End of London. He’s always been a fan of doing classical slightly differently, and that he does here. First, he wears an old T-shirt and looks like he hasn’t shaved for a week. His distinctive approach to how the usual classical piano repertory should be presented has him communicating directly with the audience between each of the above short selections, almost like a standup. He talks about the composers, their lives, and his own life experiences.  The latter includes sexual abuse and several months in a psychiatric ward for his severe depression. Here’s my review of his earlier DVD.

It wasn’t until 2008 that he met an agent who got him to express himself and record his first album, and it’s been upward and onward since then. He says what turned him around was talking with an Irish doctor who instead of just giving him a long list of meds and psychobabble, spoke to him directly and openly. His language is peppered with f…s and his audience is obviously younger fans who go crazy between each selection, whistling and shouting. (I wondered why the sleeve had a warning: “Caution – Explicit Language.”) His performances are not perfect, but deeply felt and beautifully introduced. The loveliest melody of the Baroque period—an arrangement of the melody from Orfeo by Gluck—is a highlight, as is the first of two encores: the terrific Beethoven parody by the late British comedian/actor/pianist Dudley Moore. Like the chamber music concerts in bars and cafes movement, Rhodes is creating a whole new audience for classical music. (If I had known it was possible to present a piano concert this way I might have worked harder persuing a career as a concert pianist.)


—John Sunier