The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin
Richard Dowling's The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin on Rivermont is an attractive collection of Joplin's rags, waltzes, and marches, presented on three CDs and recorded in transparent 24-bit sound. The ragtime boom of the 1970s was inspired by Joplin's music, as arranged in the soundtrack for the film The Sting, and the revival has continued in recordings by Joshua Rifkin, William Albright, William Bolcom, John Arpin, Richard Zimmerman, and William Appling, so there is considerable competition for this 2017 release. Dowling's collection presents the pieces in mixed order, so the most famous rags, such as "Maple Leaf Rag," "The Entertainer," and "Solace," are placed deep in the middle of the program to encourage listeners to explore the lesser-known rags around them. The performances are varied in expression and dynamics, and Dowling's playing is often subtle, with just enough rubato to let the music breathe. Even so, his tempos tend to be fast, and Joplin's famous injunction to play ragtime slowly is overlooked, in contrast to William Appling's set, which observes a moderate walking pace. Aside from his too-brisk tempos, Dowling offers lively syncopations with crisp articulation, and his tone throughout is bright and engaging. Try "Pine Apple Rag" for an example of Dowling's speed, and "The Chrysanthemum" or "Bethena" for a more relaxed change of pace.