James Rhodes – Piano Man (2014)

James Rhodes – Piano Man (2014)

Chapters: BEETHOVEN: Waldstein; Uppers & Downers; CHOPIN; BACH-BUSONI; Mad, Bad & Sad; BEETHOVEN, BACH 
Studio: Electric Sky/ Signum Vision [5/27/14] (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 16:9 color
Audio: English PCM stereo
No subtitles
No region code
Length: 201 minutes
Rating: ****

Rhodes is certainly not your typical concert pianist. He doesn’t dress like one, doesn’t look like one or talk like one. So naturally he put together his own video in which he incorporates the usual “extras” with discs into introduction and discussions about everything in the main video, which he then performs. He also uses clever animation as intros to the various chapters.

Rhodes’ background is also not typical. It includes childhood abuse, drug addictions and suicide attempts. He never thought when he was really down that he would ever be performing these Beethoven and Bach works before audiences and from memory, but that is what he’s doing. The complete Waldstein Sonata of Beethoven is performed, as well as several of the Bach transcriptions by Busoni. Rhodes lives in Britain.

There are extreme closeups of Rhodes’ fingers on the keys, and often he will be seated at an upright while talking about the work and the composer behind it, but then for the complete performance it switches to him playing on a Steinway concert grand—for one selection in the Hall of Fame at Steinway, with a dozen pianos in the same room and photos of some of the top concert artists on the walls. He explains how and why these three favorite composers of his have given him solace in both his bad times and today. He also has little news items come up over the video from time to time. One of them points out that a grand piano has 10,000 moving parts; makes you appreciate why most serious performers still don’t concertize on computerized electronic pianos, however good they may have become.

The sonics are excellent, though not 5.0 lossless surround. The animation and other shots cut in are appropriate and make this more entertaining than your typical piano recital video. Rhodes is very good, but no Martha Argerich. His approach is like some young friend who just happens to be a concert pianist, explaining about some of his favorites and then playing them for you.

—John Sunier

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