EPTA - Winter 2004 - Written by Malcolm Troup

BEETHOVEN – The Last Three Sonatas
Jerome Rose, piano

For a performer to be wholly at one with another performer’s interpretation is a phenomenon little short of miraculous but that is what happened to me when I sat down with my critic’s cap on to listen to Jerome Rose playing Op.109. And, as if to prove the miracle scientifically by dint of its duplicability, lo and behold the same thing happened in Op.110! Only in the opening Allegro of Op.111, after its grandiloquent French overture and a bass trill as finely articulated as the drum-roll before the Day of Judgment, was Sturm und Drang’s “last stand” allowed to get the upper hand over Jovian majesty, with sudden accelerandi threatening to devour each semiquaver grouping and making the difference in tempo of the second subject unduly notorious. Even before the Arietta had soothed away this last outburst of pianistic hubris, Rose had laid the first movement’s plagal cadence to rest in a hum of bass vibration to match the Arietta’s ethereal filigree. Rose led us through each diminution which followed with an Olympian logic which defied any further earthly backsliding – grace had finally won out over gravity, to use the words of Simone Weill.

To make an inventory of plus-points would risk reducing this act of magical recreation to a commonplace: one could dwell on Rose’s powerful but never overpowering bass sonorities, his admirable restraint in curbing any tendency to crescendo when none such is called for, the wonderful evenness of touch in Variation 3 (Op.109), the timeless effortlessness of his double- and triple-trilling, the piano subitos scrupulously oberved, the hairsbreadth nuances in timing, the ineffable way Rose let the harmonies of the variations speak without ever trying to overload the topmost note, the inner-directed separating and rounding off of phrases in the development of the first movement of Op.109, the gloriously unhurried entrance of the fugal subject in the bass in Op.110 and the strength of mind to follow the musical impulse wherever it might lead.

At the risk of doffing my critic’s cap in sign of total submission, or having it wrenched ingloriously from my head for failing to find fault, I must declare that this was playing, like Beethoven’s music itself, born of a lifetime’s experience with an inherent rightness about it that precludes arguments and banishes doubts. Every contour of the music's course is picked up by Mr. Rose’s unfailing ear (in real life the first thing one notices about him for its imposing dimensions), lovingly traced by his searching musicianship before being given its final epiphany by his infallible fingers. All pianists and piano-teachers should set this recording alongside their Schnabel, Arrau and Kempff as establishing a new 21st-century gold standard of Beethoven-playing at its finest!

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