Pianist Charles Rosen Review

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Pianist Charles Rosen Review

Post by Lance » Tue May 31, 2005 9:44 pm

Guest Review - Request of Editor-in-Chief

Quirky Veteran

by Gary Lemco

Under the auspices of the American Beethoven Society, veteran piano virtuoso Charles Rosen performed the last three Beethoven sonatas Friday, April 22, at the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies. Playing the familiar triptych with a kind of single-minded ferocity and directness of expression, Rosen confirmed his eminent status as a formalist and master of interior lines and structure. But he left some of his auditors wondering if his idiosyncratic interpretations of these thoughtful, introspectively knotty works do not deny as much as they reveal of Beethoven’s weighty notions of life, loss, and affirmation.

With the Vivace, ma non troppo of the E Major, Op. 109, Rosen briskly set the severe, rather austere demeanor of his approach, played for speed and the equally plastic, contentious elements of Beethoven’s polyphony. This tendency to over-propel Beethoven’s motives could become monochromatic and lose the dynamic impact at key cadences. This is not to deny the effective tonal sonority Rosen could project, with its niceties of chordal balance between the hands. By degrees, he spun out Beethoven’s incremental melodic kernels, but they could become pointillist and rarified, in the manner of those skittish Op. 119 bagatelles that provided Rosen’s brief encores. The last movement, marked Songful, with heartfelt feeling, had the quality of a tenderly wrought plainsong or archaic chant, whose limitless possibilities for depth of expression had been sounded by a prophet.

If the Op. 109 builds confidence and spiritual affirmation from discreet, harmonic conflicts, the Op. 110 in A-flat reverses the process, and proceeds from fond recollection to despair and a kind of rebirth of self. Rosen’s motoric decisions, however, neutralized the lyric affection of the con amabilita (with loving affection): we were rather presented with a series of interior implosions of sound, followed by an Allegro molto that seemed more a clumsy, rustic dance committed to that “hard-won resolution” of the Great Fugue than to an evocation of former innocence invaded by impending conflict. Once again, Rosen’s capacities for color and the variety of his dynamic palette brought some relief to his uncompromising speed of execution, and we could hear adumbrations of Beethoven’s influence on personalities like Cesar Franck, and in the more pulverized moments of sound, Anton Webern. Only in the final pages--where Rosen’s technique, incidentally, was less than note-perfect--did something of Beethoven’s interior, spiritual energy assert itself out of the prior slough of despondence.

The C Minor, Op. 111 Sonata is perhaps the most naturally labyrinthine of the trinity, a distillation of affects that traverse those “caverns measureless to man” of which the poet speaks. And again, Rosen’s deft but glib execution of the piece as a kind of toccata, while rendering some light on the febrile quality of Beethoven’s late imagination, could also, by eliminating those pregnant luftpausen or breathing-spaces in the music, eviscerate its human content. The intricacy of the Arietta and its myriad variations moved inextricably toward a pre-conceived end, often blazing and poignant, with the melody stretched over suspended pedal points; but the last pages suffered some real lapses and broke the mood, leaving us with more tension than had been resolved. The two excerpts from Beethoven Op. 119 offered some humor (the No. 10 only lasts seven seconds) and a moment of relaxed energy, a moving tonic to the ferocious, driven quality that had marked the evening’s music-making.

jbuck919
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Post by jbuck919 » Wed Jun 08, 2005 11:46 am

I own (on LP) Rosen's recordings of the late Beethoven sonatas and the late keyboard works of Bach. They have been a treasure in my not really large collection for at least 30 years. I have heard great things about his Chopen as well and regret that, to my knowledge, there has never been a recording.

Rosen, who lacks nothing in technique, is a rare example of a pianist who consciously informs his playing with a deep study of music theory, specifically the high architectonics that characterizes precisely Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin (just look at his books, beginning with The Classical Style). I am not saying that this is either necessary or guaranteed to create a great performance, but it sure has brought some solid gold out of Rosen. It is good to know that he is still around.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

herman
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Post by herman » Wed Jun 08, 2005 3:44 pm

jbuck919 wrote:I have heard great things about his Chopin as well and regret that, to my knowledge, there has never been a recording.
Thereused to be a Nimbus recording of the Chopin cello sonata, just about Chopin's last work.

As I said elsewhere I have great respect for Rosen's work, but being one of the few writing musicians around his views are uncommonly prevalent.

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Post by jbuck919 » Wed Jun 08, 2005 4:37 pm

herman wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:I have heard great things about his Chopin as well and regret that, to my knowledge, there has never been a recording.
Thereused to be a Nimbus recording of the Chopin cello sonata, just about Chopin's last work.

As I said elsewhere I have great respect for Rosen's work, but being one of the few writing musicians around his views are uncommonly prevalent.
I hope I'm not misunderstanding what you're saying. :) There is not in all of history a terribly huge library of interesting music theory. Rosen may seem a standout by default and there would be truth in that assumption. But he is a worthy successor to DF Tovey and possibly even to Schenker, it being certain that he is thoroughly conversant with both those giants. To go into the output of modern academia, one would have to distill a great deal (and it is possible) to pull together a set of essays that was on the level of Rosen's major publications.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

herman
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Post by herman » Thu Jun 09, 2005 2:42 am

I don't think Rosen's The Classical Style, The Romantic Generation, or his rather amusing Piano Notes are what one would call Music Theory.

I have those books, and I'm glad I do. However comparing Rosen to another quite prolific music essayist, Richard Taruskin, I vastly prefer the latter, because with Taruskin you are aware that for the learning and research you're still reading a guy and his (tremendously well-informed) views, whereas Rosen is typically one of those "let the big man do the thinking" style writers whose olympic style is meant to convey this is the way to look at things, and none other.

Part of this is also Rosen's rather risk-avoiding choice of book subject matter. No one will quarrel with a big book about Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart; or one about Schumann, Chopin and Liszt. I'm really puzzled why Rosen has not used his massive self-constructed authority to write a book about his friend Elliott Carter.

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Post by jbuck919 » Thu Jun 09, 2005 5:49 am

He did write a slim volume on Schoenberg. It is not his best work. But tonal music lends itself to deep analysis more than what came before or after. There's no Schenker for either Palestrina or Stravinsky.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Alban Berg

Post by Alban Berg » Thu Jun 09, 2005 6:04 am

herman wrote:I'm really puzzled why Rosen has not used his massive self-constructed authority to write a book about his friend Elliott Carter.
He has written both a short monograph and several essays on Carter. There's an interesting one on the Double Concerto is his collection, "Critical Entertainments."

Alban Berg

Post by Alban Berg » Thu Jun 09, 2005 6:14 am

jbuck919 wrote:Rosen, who lacks nothing in technique,
I admire Rosen enormously both as pianist and writer, but I know few people who have heard him live in the past 10 years who haven't called attention to his declining technique. When I made this point on a discussion at rmcr, Tom Deacon replied, "This is an understatement. Rosen hasn't done much in the way of practising for several decades." And he has recorded virtually nothing during this period.

Alban Berg

Post by Alban Berg » Thu Jun 09, 2005 6:15 am

jbuck919 wrote:He did write a slim volume on Schoenberg. It is not his best work. But tonal music lends itself to deep analysis more than what came before or after. There's no Schenker for either Palestrina or Stravinsky.
I think it's damned good. What are your objections to it?

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Post by herman » Thu Jun 09, 2005 8:06 am

Alban Berg wrote:
herman wrote:I'm really puzzled why Rosen has not used his massive self-constructed authority to write a book about his friend Elliott Carter.
He has written both a short monograph and several essays on Carter. There's an interesting one on the Double Concerto is his collection, "Critical Entertainments."
Oh, OK. I'd read a Carter appreciation in the NY Review Bookorum, but I didn't know he'd written a book as well. Sorry.

jbuck919
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Post by jbuck919 » Thu Jun 09, 2005 8:55 am

Alban Berg wrote:
herman wrote:I'm really puzzled why Rosen has not used his massive self-constructed authority to write a book about his friend Elliott Carter.
He has written both a short monograph and several essays on Carter. There's an interesting one on the Double Concerto is his collection, "Critical Entertainments."
It is speculative in character. Rosen's explanation of Schoenberg's compositional progress based on an inevitability (within Schoenberg's mind, which Rosen seems to be attempting to read) of carrying chromaticism to its limits is not bad, but it disappoints after the profundity and scope of The Classical Style. I prefer the classic essay "Why Schoenberg's Music is So Difficult to Understand," by, er, Alban Berg. :) :wink:

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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