Fanfare - March/April 2003 - Written by Michael Ullman

Chopin Ballades. Fantasy, op. 49; Jerome Rose, piano
Monarch Classics M20052 (46:59)

Jerome Rose was a student of Leonard Schure, who was a student of Schnabel. That direct, though segmented, connection with my favorite classical pianist interests me, as it did Fanfare’s Peter Rabinowitz, whose interview with Rose appeared in the January/February 2003 issue. Schnabel’s playing provoked in me, as in many others, a rapt attention to the overall structure as well as the details of a piece, even as lengthy a piece as the “Hammerklavier” sonata. That attention depended of course on the pianist’s handling of each phrase, as well as his instinct for rhythmic structure. At his best, Schnabel illuminated every note while eschewing local effects. He made the moment significant while simultaneously allowing us to escape it through its relationship to the whole. Of course, Schnabel wasn’t particularly interested in Chopin, let alone Liszt, whom he used to demonstrate bad music to students. Liszt was nonetheless an early specialty of Jerome Rose, who has newly recorded the four Chopin Ballades. Perhaps Rose’s early repertoire (he’s recently recorded late Beethoven) was his way of dealing with the anxiety of influence, or perhaps it’s just independence.

He shows that independence in his Chopin playing. I hope it is not a sign of intellectual laziness on my part that, although I admire greatly the performances by Pollini, Ashkenazy, Richter, and Perahia, for instance, my favorite performance of the four Chopin Ballades is the first that I knew: Artur Rubinstein’s from 1959, now reissued as part of the Rubinstein collection. That said, I find much of what Jerome Rose does here bewitching: It is in some ways freer, more whimsical, with greater contrasts, than Rubinstein’s. Rose muses a bit on the First Ballade, for instance, pushes the tempo expectantly, and then moves towards large climaxes. Some of his phrases seem to come in bursts. At least in comparison to Rubinstein, he stresses the bold whimsicality of Chopin’s writing, its quicksilver shifts. That doesn’t sound like a Schnabel disciple, yet these ballades respond to many interpretative approaches, and Rose manages to hold each piece together in a satisfying way. He plays the quiet opening phrases of the Fourth Ballade innocently but with just enough of a hint of the energetic development to come. The Fantasy shows, unsurprisingly, a similar technique and approach. Rose’s ballades are convincing performances by a major pianist.

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