San Diego Arts - November 2005 - Written by David Gregson

Barbara and William Karatz Chamber Concert Series

To describe La Jolla's Athenaeum as an "intimate" performance environment would be an understatement. Many La Jolla living rooms are larger, and, in fact, some of these local living spaces get used for serious concerts from time to time. While the Athenaeum's Spanish-Renaissance-style structure, which has commanded the corner of Girard and Wall Streets since 1921, looks plenty large enough, the portion most often employed for piano recitals is the small "rotunda" wing added to the main building way back in 1957. In those days the majority of the space was rented by the City of San Diego for the operation of a branch of the public library.

Athenaeum recitals are high among the potent joys of the cultural life of our city, and they certainly do not get any better than last night's program offered by pianist Jerome Rose, an artist possessing both superb taste, a poet's sensibility and a virtually flawless technique. But, when you watch him, he appears to be all business. Many lesser artists toss their heads about in feigned ecstasies and raise their arms dramatically into the air like high-speed construction derricks. Rose sticks to the task at hand. He played all his selections sans score, and if he made a single mistake all evening, it does not merit mention. What impressed was the tremendous degree of his involvement in and understanding of the music he was playing. For those who do not know of his extensive career as a recording artist, I have provided a link to his website above (just click on his underlined name) and have appended an artist biography download to this review.

Nowhere during this nourishing program was I so impressed as during the two throw-away encores (simply announced as "A Chopin waltz" -- and then, "Another Chopin waltz." ) These appear to have been the Waltz in A minor ("Valse brillante"), Op. 34, No. 2 and Waltz in A-Flat ("Valse brillante"), Op. 34., No. 1, although I am only positive about the A minor one. I could have listened to this kind of thing all night -- his feeling for the composer is evidently so thoroughly ingrained. The music breathes exactly as it should -- beguiling, glistening, haunting, seductive. It's impossible to heap enough praise.

Rose began his recital with yet another item unlisted on the printed program, Schubert's E-Flat Impromptu, Op. 90 (please don't ask me the Deutsche number! D.899 maybe?), and continued on with the very serious Schubert Sonata in C Minor, D. 958, a piece that tries to emulate Beethoven's sonatas here and there, nowhere more tellingly, I think, than in the crazy rhythmic hesitations of the third-movement Scherzo. At their most intriguing, both Beethoven and Schubert seem to be experimenting with form in their works, and to get all the disparate parts into some coherent whole must always be a challenge for any performer. Rose managed to tie everything together without so much as the bat of an eye or the drop of a bead of sweat. He might have been "channeling" the composer, everything was so persuasive and made so much sense. He followed this up with a lovely traversal of Chopin's Ballade No. 3 in A Flat Major, Op. 47.

Never a great Liszt fan myself, I am usually suspicious of Liszt specialists, but not Rose. He seems to see into the heart of the matter. I was not surprised to find him playing Liszt's Vallée d'Obermann from Années de Pèlerinage," Première Année: Suisse (No. 6) (try typing that little title from memory!) because this is one of those truly wonderful works where the composer seems to be searching for something in the finest 19th-century Byronic manner. Rose even prefaced his performance with a brief reading of a poem by Byron -- that great Romantic doomed and suffering lost soul, always questing, always posturing and showing off -- and who also managed to become the Elvis Presley of 19th century literature!

Then, in an apparent effort to burn down the Athenaeum, Rose tore through Liszt's Mephisto Waltz, No. 1. Being in a small room hearing works like these is overwhelming -- a little like being in Disney Hall for Mahler's Resurrection Symphony.


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