I was not very gallant to Virginia Eskin in Fanfare 22:3. In her rag collection Spring Beauties (Koch International 3-7440-2H1), I thought that her playing was brittle and technically not up to snuff. Fluffy Ruffle Girls, recorded in 1985—apparently this is a reissue—is an order of magnitude better. Eskin's playing is grandly brilliant when she wants it to be, and smoothly mellow when it's not. She draws a broad palette of colors out of her Bòsendorfer, a very beautiful instrument totally complementary to this repertoire. There still are awkward moments, but only a few.
This is a collection of rags by female composers; all but the two by Judith Lang Zaimont were written during the first two decades of this century.Read more These were ragtime's palmiest days, and the genre was dominated by black men. Nevertheless, women were adding their voices to the chorus. They didn't get the recognition that the men did; if their works were published at all, sometimes they were published under male pseudonyms or just a set of initials. Their careers tended to end almost as soon as they began, given society's demands and the needs of wife- and motherhood. Finding these rags and bringing them back to us has been a labor of love for Eskin and musicologists of either gender.
There's nothing here that's second-rate. These composers could write rags just as well as Joseph Lamb did—practically as well as Scott Joplin! It is, however, unlikely that many of the composers could have foreseen that their works would have been included in an hour-long program of other rags, and it is not their fault if this is a CD that is best appreciated when it is sampled instead of played straight through. There's stylistic variety here, but after a while the law of diminishing returns kicks in anyway, and the ear and brain have difficulty swallowing any more rags. ("Block that metaphor!," as they say in The New Yorker.) Having said that, I draw your attention to Irene Giblin's infectious Chicken Chowder, whose tittering chromaticism will put you in a good mood, no matter what. (I'd ask for the recipe, but I am a vegetarian.) And I was mightily impressed by Zaimont's two rags, both written in 1975 during the ragtime renaissance. Both wear wistful smiles, especially Reflective Rag, which is an absolute gem. If a few classical radio stations started plugging this, they might have a genuine hit on their hands.
There are useful notes by Carolynn A. Lindeman, and the cover photo (a vintage shot of women gathering flowers) is beautiful.