EPTA Piano Journal - Spring 2005 - Written by Malcolm Troup

MEDICI CLASSICS
M30072 2-CD SET
JEROME ROSE plays SCHUBERT
The Three Posthumous Sonatas &
"Wanderer" Fantasie

Jerome Rose is a supreme Classicist by training and by temperament: proportions, balance and restraint are his watchwords. That is no doubt why he was not fully prepared for Schubert's shooting his bolt - a rare example of musical premature ejaculation - in the first 14 bars of his C minor Sonata D958 before settling into less challenging routines. In 1828, when Schubert first came to terms with his rightful status as heir to Beethoven, it was still not easy for him to aim at the Olympic heights of Romanticism (which was all about mountain peaks) rather than the Elysian fields of Classicism where he had been content to gambol previously. The trappings of Romanticism, which Beethoven had embraced, came to Schubert from outside, predominantly from the opera­ house of Weber and Rossini, where he had had little success. It had been a question of introducing the odd purple patch of thunder-and-lightning or `Wolf's Glen' until, like his idol, he could begin to interiorise the real Romantic agony. As it is, it takes him a whole four octaves to achieve the same ascent from C to Ab that it had taken Beethoven less than one octave to accomplish in the theme of his 32 Variations in c minor which had served Schubert as a model. In D958, it is still difficult to give these sudden spasms their due so it is only after Jerome Rose leads us into the lovely countersubject that he is once more in his element. At his Schubertian best, Rose has a knack of avoiding the bar-line by walking off with it as if it were a present to be unwrapped in his own time. The results here are deliciously melting but in other contexts, - say the Scherzo of D979, this tendency to sectionalise comes between us and the forward flow of the music. But let's not cavil in view of the riches spilling over on every page: the spooky chromatic bass-line, for one, as it slithers and slides back into the recap and later brings the movement to a defeated close with a four- against-three­ beat cross-rhythm to shatter what little fortitude remains. The Adagio (a rare tempo-marking among these later sonatas) is more early-Beethoven than the first movement for all that people say and Jerome does it to perfection as also the Scherzo with its odd 3,4,5 phrase­ structure and the ghostly hunt of the finale.

As if the piling-up of fermata and general pauses isn't enough for Schubert, we could almost describe D959 in A major as the `comma' sonata for the number of `breaths' introduced for the purpose of singling out phrases or even single bars - a `tradition' on the verge of becoming as nagging a mannerism as the mesa de voce in `authentic' Baroque string-playing. Fortunately, Rose keeps a tight grip on this and, in any case, the lordly opening of the Allegro would hardly offer up its secrets without it. The first page or two of the development has much in common with D960 (bar 173 to the end) but whereas Rose's bright objective tone works a treat in D959, it quite misses the veiled luminous quality of D960 which it spells out too literally. The Andantino again found Rose in top form, frightening the living daylights out of us in blackest F# minor before vowing vengeance in recit. No wonder that the opening section returns with a triplet frisson now embedded in the rnelody in token of what we have been through. A sheer delight in Rose's knowing hands was the ingenuous little Ländler, passing itself off as a Trio while still coquettishly reminding us of the Sonata's mighty opening motto. Likewise the Rondo finale was Schubert and Rose at their reciprocal best - straight-sailing Gemütlichkeit, but for some F#/C# minor squalls midway. Its headlong closing Presto was a marvel of crispness and clarity although, to my taste, the last few ff bars can never be grand enough to counter the preceding prolixity.

The glorious D960 was made to order for a pianist like Rose who has the uncanny art of getting every note of a chord to register audibly, even at pp level, without sacrificing the line of the song. Both in the triplets of the theme's restatement in the exposition and in the following triplet climax of the development, Rose's drive was undauntable. It may seem a contradiction in terms to say that the Andante sostenuto, pp practically throughout, could have done with more tonal contrasts and p subito like that of his inspired slide from C# major to C major. The lilting finale smoothed all our cares away but, after so much sublime pianism, could we not throw restraint and even accuracy aside for once and let passion rip in the final Presto?

Finally, it would be doing this excellent recording an injustice if I were to say that it is the "Wanderer” Fantasie by which it will be remembered the longest - perhaps because it was the work I happened to put on first. But the fact remains that it is one of the finest performances to come my way of a work that has been neglected just because its exorbitant technical demands conspire against its musical transcendence, couched as it is in a Biedermeier style looking back to Hummel rather than forward to Liszt. For all that, it so fascinated Liszt that he made two versions of it - one for marginally simplified solo piano and the other better known for piano and orchestra. But here we have the luxury of the full-blooded original played by a master-pianist who has long since established his credentials as a consummate Schubertian.


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