EPTA - Spring 2008 - Written by Malcolm Troup
An incomparable Chopin recital
Jerome Rose's new and, believe it or not, first commercially-made DVD, contains not only an incomparable Chopin recital devoted to seven of that composer's major masterpieces, not only a rare opportunity to see the virtuoso in real life in interview with David Dubal, but at the same time a masterclass (for all who will but listen) in the arcane art of authentic Chopin interpretation. Where else can one find that fluidity, even in the slowest motion, that breakaway speed as in the second Ballade while appearing never to be in a hurry, that singing legato in the same Ballade, that sculpted sound where the same phrase (vide the opening of Ballade No.4) emerges each time newly minted? The fact that here we can see as well as hear Rose in action adds to our amazement at how the aural effect can be in such seemless accord with the visual kinesthesis: every physical act on his part seemingly in inverse proportion to the aural impact of his ever-shifting gradations of tone from the pp of the 'Funeral March' Finale to the creative fff chaos released in the closing pages of Ballade No A - truly an "art which concealeth art".
Amazing, too, the hands spread out almost straight-fingered on the keys so that only the warmest richest sounds would be produced by the fleshy parts of the finger-tips whatever the volume - the old German over-arched hand-position would never work for his velvety 'softly-softly' tread on the keys of his Yamaha searching out and palpating whatever tonal mysteries other pianist have been unable to reach.
From the very start of the familiar first Ballade to the two Sonatas, one struggled to lay one's finger on the pulse of this master-musician, how he stole in on all our preconceptions and took us unawares. Was it the ebb and flow of his phrasing where an elongation here would trigger off an acceleration there as if to balance up the time-flow despite yielding to felicities by the wayside or was it something else — his power to 'frame' a phrase, detaching it ever so slightly from its context - like lighting on a painting - with never enough to dislocate it or fragment it? The source of Jerry's art is a constant wonderment to us all, like a natural phenomenon calling for an explanation and finding none. He could as easily be sitting there like some imperturbable round- and smooth-faced Gautama of the keyboard with the music streaming out of his fingers by an act of mind alone — an ideal state as envisaged by those modern day pedagogues who put the brain in the place the fingers used to occupy.
The Ab major Ballade, as it opens up from the centre of the keyboard like a flower unfolding, was the very act of physically stretching made audible — an ever-wider-ranging process which only found its fulfillment in the exultant climax before careening crazily up and down the keyboard.
The uncanny repose of Rose's platform- manner makes it seem no longer a case of one performance so much as the valedictory distillation of a lifetime of such performances. Thus the diminished 'drop' of the Chopin Bb minor Sonata, like the sprung platform of the hangman's scaffold, kicks in as a veritable voice of doom before sending the fingers scuttling off in all directions vainly seeking escape from their grim sentence.
The Scherzo, though a miracle of Rose's deftness and dispatch, gives no quarter either as it beats out its doomsday tattoo - the rat-a-tat-tat of the execution squad - to which Rose offers the swansong of the Trio as a moving bel canto plea. The Funeral March itself is truly cast in stone, the same Db major again acting as a temporary soulful reprieve. In Rose's fingers, now more spatulate than ever, it sings out the saddest song that ever you did hear — the individual phrases set apart ever so slightly, as only Rose knows how to do, with his eloquent left hand contributing equally to the poetry.
Never has the Finale been more spectral and sotto voce with Rose like a quantum physicist making hallucinatory patterns appear and disappear in these cascades of subatomic particles. Rose gave the whole Sonata the breathless unicity of a four-act theatre-piece in which we were never allowed to escape for long from the grim shadow of death.
The B minor Sonata found Chopin and Rose now occupying the Olympian highground, all such passion spent, with Rose showing off the lofty architectonics of the work to perfection before a Finale in which the momentum of Chopin's attempt to anticipate Wagner's 'Ride of the Valkyries' was ratcheted up by Rose to fever pitch before its triumphant consummation.
In the following informative interview with David Dubal, Jerome Rose tells us in words what turns him on in Chopin as if his heaven-storming fingers have not already informed us of that much more eloquently and convincingly. Nevertheless it is good to confirm as eye¬witnesses what a deep-feeling, rounded and lovable human being is this Jerome Rose when not enthroned by rights on his proverbial podium!