Burnside Library, Adelaide
March 4, 2018

When I think of the term ‘Chicago Blues’, I think of the electric blues musicians who migrated from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago after World War II like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Slim Harpo, whose brand of guitar-based blues laid the musical foundations for legendary rock artists that followed in their footsteps like Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones. No doubt, pianist and composer Tim Barton grew up and learned his craft in the Chicago music scene. However, his generous program of works from Gershwin, Joplin, and “Jelly Roll” Morton interposed with several foundational classical pieces was really a pastiche of the musical influences that have nurtured him in his career development, rather than what I would call Chicago Blues.

Indeed, the centrepiece of the recital was Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze, two sets of nine parts in the first and second halves. Barton impressed with his command of this technical, passionate and notorious finger-breaking work, although its relationship to the rest of the program escaped me. However, while the program was generous, it was so packed with goodies that Barton was compelled to rush, which impacted negatively on his presentation of the more sensitive works.

The romance of Gershwin’s The Man I Love, Someone to Watch Over Me and the adagio section of Barton’s arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue were lost in the frenzied pacing, as was the blues essential to Prelude No. 2. Preludes 1 and 3 are fast, but Barton’s performance was littered with finger slips and insecurity. The left hand counterpoint in Joplin’s The Entertainer and Maple Leaf Rag was also muddled. However, Barton was more relaxed on Morton’s Mr. Jelly Lord and Fats Waller’s The Jitterbug Waltz and his boogie-woogie inspired originals were energetic and crowd pleasing.

As well as the Schumann, classical buffs were treated to Barton’s own arrangement of Bach’s Prelude in G Major from Book 2 of The Well Tempered Clavier, where counterpoint made way after around a minute for flowing runs and chords reminiscent of Debussy – Glenn Gould would have turned in his grave, but it was pleasant if unexpected. Gould would have been happier with Barton’s choice of Mozart’s Fantasy in D Minor, K.397 – one of his most contrapuntal and Bach-inspired works.

In the end, while the program might not have matched the badge it was given, and the chocolate box of a program had its favourites and its less tasty items, it was well worth attending.