Search - Morten Gunnar Larsen :: Fingerbreaker

Morten Gunnar Larsen
Genres: Jazz, Pop, Classical
  •  Track Listings (18) - Disc #1

Sometimes it seems a little goofy to hear reconstructions of early jazz played by modern players. As long as the original recordings still exist, why bother? In Larsen's case, though, there's a clear answer: he's a terrifi...  more »


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CD Details

All Artists: Morten Gunnar Larsen
Title: Fingerbreaker
Members Wishing: 1
Total Copies: 0
Label: Decca U.S.
Release Date: 5/11/1999
Genres: Jazz, Pop, Classical
Style: Traditional Jazz & Ragtime
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 028946049921

Sometimes it seems a little goofy to hear reconstructions of early jazz played by modern players. As long as the original recordings still exist, why bother? In Larsen's case, though, there's a clear answer: he's a terrific pianist, with a firm command of all the styles involved in this collection. You might find his version of Joplin's "Solace" a bit sentimentalized, but otherwise he plays the music of all these composer-pianists with gusto, sensitivity, and the utmost conviction. If you heard Larsen on Prairie Home Companion, you'll share my disappointment that none of his originals are included on this disc; he writes a lovely blend of Grieg and Joplin. Perhaps some of those will be included in his next disc. Meanwhile, this one is entertaining and an excellent introduction to early rag and jazz piano styles. --Leslie Gerber

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CD Reviews

Ian Miles | Oxford GB | 01/09/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Anyone else who was in their 'teens in the early/mid-'70s will probably share deep resonances with the Ragtime revival of those days that followed the Joplin soundtrack of the film THE STING. Certainly I greatly enjoyed playing through some of the better- (and some of the lesser-) known Joplin pieces as a welcome change of idiom from the traditional classical piano repertoire beyond about Grade V of the British system. But besides Joplin himself, I didn't know much about that style. The present disc bears splendid comparison with the two widely-distributed Joshua Rifkin LPs of the Joplin tracks. I love the airy, vibrant, twinkle-eyed accuracy of Larsen's interpretations and the way his voicings show how much more there is to this kind of music, than some 'traditional'/'straight' pianists prefer to admit. What about his 'Solace', for instance? I'm reminded of the London reviewer of a recital I attended by Ivo Pogorelich a few years ago: commenting on a particularly limpid Chopin nocturne or whatever, this critic said Pogorelich's rubato was so very fluid that 'one wondered where, or indeed whether, the next beat would fall' ... ! And yet, Larsen's 'Solace' really works. I think it's splendid. It is good, though, to find Larsen's Joplin selection in the company of works by other composers. For me, the great discovery has to be the three tracks by Willie 'The Lion' Smith. I like a lot of the other stuff (and have got hold of most of the other non-Joplin tracks in an excellent album, to be able to enjoy playing them myself) - but as yet have had no joy with the three Smith pieces. I would love to have paper copies of 'Rippling Waters' and 'Echo of Spring' (and indeed 'Fingerbuster' itself though I would probably baulk at playing that!) Can anyone out there let me in on the secret: where can I get my hands on Willie Smith's work in print? Apart from that digression I'd conclude this brief review by commending the disc wholeheartedly. Anyone happening to read this and who thought ragtime was shallow or ephemeral, would have their ears truly opened by this selection and its performance: here is the joy and pathos of Tchaikovsky, the poetry of Chopin and the intricate formal rigour of the Baroque, all under just ten fingers (not forgetting the skilful, minimal use of the pedal - the art of good ragtime is to play it 'Not Fast', as enjoined by Joplin himself at the head of most of his scores ... but also not to cling onto that pedal while covering the jumps!) To amateurs like me it is slightly sickening to hear it done so well and sounding so effortless - but the music is so lovely that any negative niggles are swiftly eclipsed. Do listen to this disc - it's an absolute treat."
Cornucopia of raggy treats
aburns57 | Colorado Spring, CO United States | 05/21/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Larsen is obviously a superb pianist, and this disc, which is very well recorded, will be a real treat for anyone who loves classic ragtime and early jazz piano. The range of composers he covers is remarkable: Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, Willie "The Lion" Smith, James Scott, Eubie Blake, and Joseph Lamb. (But why, I wonder, in that achronological order? I can only suppose that he wanted to highlight contrasts in styles rather than the evolution of stride and early jazz from ragtime.)Larsen rocks (in the best sense of the word) on Morton's "Kansas City Stomp" and Blake's "Dictys on 7th Ave." and plays with remarkable refinement on Smith's gorgeous "Echo of Spring" and "Rippling Waters" (both of which resemble a kind of hybrid of Ravel and James P. Johnson--speaking of whom, it would have been nice to have a piece or two by Johnson on the disc as well, but perhaps that's getting downright greedy . . .)Larsen strikes me as a shade less successful with the classic rags. The technique is beyond dispute, but a certain preciousness mars for me his performances of Joplin in particular. (I felt that way after I made direct comparisons between these interpretations and those that are for me the gold standards: Joshua Rifkin and Dick Hyman. Larsen doesn't probe as deeply into the works as the former, and he doesn't bring out the swinging joy in them as successfully as the latter.)Having said that, however, I did find his leisurely performance of my favorite James Scott rag, "The Ragtime Betty", to be revelatory and preferable even to that of Guido Nielsen (who has recorded an absolutely first-rate complete set of Scott's piano works). The way Larsen plays that great final theme, with its echo effects, is just perfect! Highly recommended."
Listening to Fingerbreaker Is Pure Pleasure
Mary Ann McRae | 01/29/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Morten Gunnar Larsen has beautiful technique, and he's attentive to small details. Every note is so clear. He's added occasional tasteful embellishments, but they don't detract from the original scores. I believe you'd enjoy his virtuoso performance on this CD."