Classics Today - January 2003 - Written by Jed Distler

Beethoven: Last Three Piano Sonatas

Casual browsers in search of Beethoven's last three piano sonatas understandably might pass over this release in light of numerous more distinguished versions crowding the bins. However, it's their loss, for Jerome Rose's superb pianism and insightful musicianship easily holds its own in the company of Kempff, Arrau, Serkin, Gulda, Goode, Hungerford, Frank, and most recently, Freddy Kempf. Rose is less concerned with color than Arrau or Kempff: his gaunt, compact sonority and dynamic intensity is closer to Gulda, Frank, and Serkin (the latter with whom he studied). Rose barely pauses between Op. 109's first two movements, and serves up the music in impassioned, flexible paragraphs. The slow-moving chords that make up the variation movement's theme take on the character of a string quartet by way of Rose's focused voice leading. You can argue that the chains of trills don't reach Schnabelean or Arrauvian heights of ecstasy, or that Variation Three's knotty 16th-notes are not so crisply dispatched as those of Gould, Richter, or Goode. But Op. 110 proves no less inspired and detailed through Rose's generally fleet and suave reading. As with Op. 109, Rose also makes a clear distinction between Beethoven's legato versus non-slurred phrasing (second movement, bars 25-26 and similar places).

If Op. 111's first-movement introduction is broad to the point of standing still (the downward suspensions in bars 11 through 13 are static and self-conscious), the pianist's hurling sweep takes Beethoven's Allegro con brio ed appasionato directive at more than face value--and we readily forgive a few untidy moments in the heat of battle. Rose begins the Arietta with hushed concentration, although the momentum slackens as the variations progress, when Rose unwittingly un-syncopates some of the jazzy dotted rhythms (here Pollini's proficiency remains awesome). All told, this release constitutes some of Jerome Rose's finest playing on disc.


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