COMPACT DISC REVIEW
Scott Joplin: The Complete Rags, Waltzes & Marches
William Appling (1932-2008), piano
Disc One: Sugar Cane / Pleasant Moments / Country Club / The Ragtime Dance / Gladiolus Rag / Combination March / The Cascades / Bethena / Great Crush Collision March / Leola / Scott Joplin’s New Rag.
Disc Two: Maple Leaf Rag / Binks’ Waltz / Paragon Rag / Reflection Rag / The Easy Winners / Eugenia / A Breeze From Alabama / Harmony Club Waltz / Original Rags / Cleopha / Antoinette / Euphonic Sounds.
Disc Three: School of Ragtime / Elite Syncopations / Peacherine Rag / Searchlight Rag / March Majestic / The Chrysanthemum / The Strenuous Life / Nonpareil (None to Equal) / The Sycamore / Pine Apple Rag / The Entertainer / The Augustan Club Waltzes.
Disc Four: Wall Street Rag / The Favorite / Rose Leaf Rag / Palm Leaf Rag / Rosebud / Silver Swan Rag / Weeping Willow / Fig Leaf / Stoptime Rag / Magnetic Rag / Solace.
Initially, this Joplin collection has a lot of appeal. William Appling was a classically trained pianist and was conductor of the William Appling Singers & Orchestra. The selections, while recorded in 2006-2007 before his untimely death in 2008, were ultimately released in 2017 to coincide with the 100-year commemoration of Joplin’s death. And while Appling is not the first artist to release a “complete collection” of Joplin, he remains the only African-American to do so, thus offering the vision of a special bond between these two musicians of a shared racial heritage.
Of the 15 Joplin collections listed on the internet, the definition of “complete” varies from artist to artist. Appling has chosen to exclude Joplin’s collaborative works, i.e., four with Scott Hayden, two with Arthur Marshall and one with Louis Chauvin - sad omissions indeed. His illness deprived him of the use of piano pedals, giving many of the pieces a staccato emphasis. He also took Joplin’s admonition, “It is never right to play ragtime fast” very seriously – perhaps too seriously in several instances.
With these negatives in mind, one might be presupposed to rate the recordings rather harshly; yet they fared surprisingly well. Despite the absence of pedaling, Appling dexterously added sufficient legato to many of the melodic passages. This technique counteracted the staccato effects and provided interesting contrasts, as heard in Leola and The Chrysanthemum, as examples. All selections are played as per the scores and all repeats are honored, an indication of his respect for what Joplin set down on paper. And the slower tempos began to exert more appeal with repeated listenings, although some, such as Gladiolus Rag, Bethena, Reflection Rag and Original Rags, were so slow as to be funereal.
The sound quality is good, the dynamics are acceptable and the box set is accompanied by a 32-page booklet of notes and analyses. Despite his numerous successes in the realm of classical music, William Appling did not “discover” Scott Joplin until 2001. However, he quickly immersed himself in Joplin’s repertoire and, undeterred by the handicaps of his advancing illness, he produced a loving tribute to the King of Ragtime and one that is worthy of exploration.Available at Amazon.com, CDBaby.com and all other major online stores. Prices may vary.