Atlanta Audio Society - March 2004 - Written by Phil Muse

Monarch Classics 20042

Robert Schumann once twitted Chopin with having bound four of his wildest children together and termed the result a sonata. Ironically, the same might be said of Schumann's own piano sonatas. In fact, the greatest challenge facing the interpreter is to make coherent what unity there is in each piece, in spite of the seeming incoherence of the materials. But, as booklet annotator Harris Goldsmith puts it, Schumann "came within a stone's throw of structural mastery," and it is just this tension between aspiration and achievement that makes Schumann so fascinating. He was truly a composer whose reach exceeded his grasp - but what an amazing reach!

Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in his three Piano Sonatas in F# minor, Op.11; F minor, Op.14; and G minor, Op.22. What they require of the pianist is not only demon technical ability, but also the maturity and artistic insight of one who has lived with Schumann. Such an artist is Jerome Rose, and the results are immensely satisfying. Nowhere is the structure more discursive than in Opus 11, but Rose makes the work a plausible whole through a similarity of mood and feeling. The second movement, marked Aria, is a 3-minute effusion of love sentiment reminding us that Schumann had the pianist Clara Wieck - the future Clara Schumann - very much in mind at this time. A rambunctious Scherzo with accents (intentionally) in all the wrong places, shifting rhythms and changing points of attack, is calculated to create hazards for a performer less adept than Jerome Rose.

Opus 14 was termed by its publisher (not Schumann himself) a "concerto without orchestra," and has been trying to live down the tag ever since. Actually, despite the sonata's sprawling dimensions, it is highly idiomatic music that could only have been written for the piano. The best known movement here is the third, an Andatnino in the form of a set of freewheeling variations on a theme of Clara Wieck (Clara, again! The boy couldn't get her off his mind). The finale, conceived with Clara's technical brilliance in mind, is marked Prestissimo possible (as fast as possible), then humorously calls for the performer to play "faster still" (an impossibility which Rose does not fall for).

Likewise, Opus 22 is marked at the outset so rasch wie moglich (as fast as possible), and later on, Schumann calls for acceleration. Towards the end when the opening melody reappears, he marks it "even faster." This time, the man is on the level, and Rose builds the climax of this movement stage by stage with consummate skill. The haunting, long-lined melody of the slow movement, based on the melody of Schumann's song Im Herbst (In Autumn), contrasts effectively with the velocity of the outer movements.


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