EPTA Piano Journal - Spring 2007 - Written by Malcolm Troup


BRAHMS: Sonata No.3 in f minor and Handel-Variations

Jerome Rose, piano

This exemplary recording came the closest I have ever heard to capturing the spirit of the “Hats off, gentlemen a Genius!" Brahms as he first appeared at the door of the Schumanns' home in Düsseldorf and, if so, explains why Schumann asked him to hold his thunder until he had summoned Clara to hear this new pianistic phenomenon. Jerome Rose captures to perfection the majestic tempi, the lush orchestral sonorities, the abrupt changes of mood, the daredevil leaps of the young Brahms intent on piling Ossia cut Pelion - one mighty gesture after another - enough to put any lesser pianist off his stroke. Rose held it all together allowing it to expand organically from one end of the movement to the other. Not a detail escaped him: neither the elegantly shaped Db section in the development (through to the return of the main subject in the flattened supertonic) or his innate adjudication of exactly the right amount of weight to differentiate Brahms' pianistic 'songs' from their accompaniment. What he did with shifting nuances to confer its dolcissimo character on the Poco piu lento passage beggared belief and can only be compared to his genial soave inflection in Var. 12 of the Handel-Variations. The slower the piano became as it changed from the unutterably tender Andante molto espressivo ppp to Adagio, the more miraculously he maintained the onward flow of the music which all too easily can sag into stagnation. Then the Scherzo burst upon the scene with a lusty gallumphing tempo suggestive of the louche Hamburg Reeperbahn where the young Brahms was employed to entertain the clientele. But Rose's fleetness of finger never slackened and the pp molto leggiero could not have been bettered. The dark colours of Rose's inexhaustible palette had us breathing the air of other planets in the transformed Rückblick that followed.

Once into the Finale, we had another demonstration of Rose's rapid-­fire alternation from clipped to sustained, ffto pp, with only seconds to spare. Noteworthy, too, is the sonorous gravitas he achieves in his rolling arpeggiations - a sine qua non of Brahmsian piano writing - both here and in the Handel-Variation No. I3. The molto agitato semiquavers gave us a foretaste of the whirlwind Presto (or should we sayPrestississimo) which lay ahead, once the German patriotic college-song had Been got out of the way, and before the music resumed its grandiose march to the finish. With the punctilious trills of Handel's theme, starting dutifully on the upper note, we know that we are in for a fastidious display of the mature Brahms, determined to hold his waning passions in check while showing off his consummate craft in the art of variation. Splendid as they are under Rose's impeccable fingers, Brahms had the example of Beethoven firmly in his sights - not only in his 'Diabelli' but also the fugue of the 'Hammerklavier' the thick textures and ending of which it so clearly resembles. But whereas the Diabelli- Variations are at the same time antiquarian as well as daringly experimental, those of Brahms are, for all their virtuoso demands on the performer, academic - a sort of 'quod erat demonstrandum' putting the variation-form in its place, so to speak, if not on the shelf. Jerome Rose seems to sense this in his playing of them - both masterly and restrained at the same time. What makes it such a joy, however, is the effortless way in which his brain, rather than his fingers, seems to be playing with these ingenious patterns. So often what one gets in the 'Handel' is a sensation of honest sweat expended in a worthy cause - here Rose adopts what amounts to a ludic style which from Variation 14 to well-nigh 25 provides a classic lesson in how to lighten the touch, underplaying the density of Brahms' textures, while retaining all his genius. Indeed these recordings serve magnificently to chronicle the two sides of Brahms' genius - the firebrand younger Brahms of the Sonata, with whom both the Schumanns fell ill love, and Brahms the neo-classicist of these retrospective Variations. Could it be that a certain falling- off in drive and volume in the build-up to the last two pages of the Variations - needful to balance the witty discussion of the theme which preceded them - somewhat dampened this reviewer's enthusiasm?

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