Audiophile Audition - April 21, 2010 - Written by Gary Lemco

Jerome Rose has earned the sobriquet as “the last Romantic pianist,” which might even be true, given the mortality rate of our keyboard giants with roots to the early 20th Century.

Jerome Rose plays BEETHOVEN Live in Concert

Program: Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101; Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109; Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110; Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111
Studio: Medici Classics DVD M50029 (Distr. by VAI)
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 Color
Audio: PCM Stereo
All regions
Length: 86 minutes
Rating: ****

Jerome Rose (b. 1938), a veteran of the Busoni Competition and pupil of both Leonard Shure and Rudolf Serkin, has earned the sobriquet as “the last Romantic pianist,” which might even be true, given the mortality rate of our keyboard giants with roots to the early 20th Century. The set of four late Beethoven sonatas derives from the Yamaha Artist Services studio, New York, 2008 before a modest audience.

Without ceremony, Rose enters the plastic, economical world of Op. 101, one of Beethoven’s compressed studies in Classical form, a close kin of the F Minor Quartet, Op. 95. Rose eschews grand gestures and rhetorical flourishes, rather soberly addressing the falling figures that define the first movement’s interior world. Video production by Asaf Blasberg occasionally resorts to double exposure or split-screen technique to parallel the music’s polyphony. A strong attack in the martial second movement perhaps pays homage to the Serkin influence in Rose’s pedagogy, the figures keen and chiseled. In stature and in the thickness of his fingers, Rose reminds me at one of Andor Foldes and Nikita Magaloff. A searching intellect informs the several lines his hands evolve in the course of this fluid aggressive movement. More intimate plumbing of the musical depths occurs in the third movement, though detached in Rose’s plastic evocation of longing, almost hinting at Debussy. The music segues to the introductory bars only to explode—by way of a strong trill--in percussive counterpoint, which Rose molds in expressive periods. A forceful potent coda concludes a gratifying, eminently controlled rendition of this subtle work.

A rather brisk tempo establishes the Aeolian harp motif for the E Major Sonata, whose passions seem ever restrained, though they reach well beyond the near stars. An urgent, even obsessive impulse infiltrates the mercurial design, a haunted sense of tragedy that acts a foil to the lyrical outpourings in the upper registers. Attacca to the blistering Prestissimo, a relatively merciless excursion into bravura pyrotechnics; although here, too, a fateful message lies in its inexorable wake. Then, the first of Beethoven’s many late explorations of the variation form, opening with a plaintive song that permits us a glimpse into (six) by-ways of the human psyche. The more elaborate variants, with their double trills and multiple-hand effects allow us insight to Beethoven’s own improvisatory style. Yet, the repeated figures on a pedal point and the shimmering arpeggios create a resonant intensity that transcends more virtuosity. A touch of Bach polyphony tinges the final moments, strong, aggressive, only to melt back into the original song’s infinite compassion.

The A-flat Major Sonata, perhaps a paean to lost love, allows Rose a moment of emotional repose in the opening movement, his singing tone and taut line moving in liquid harmony. Though, here too, the rising figures and scale patterns move in nostalgic affinities toward some higher realm. Rose emphasizes the E-flat Major motifs as dramatically resonant and anticipatory of the second movement, Allegro molto. The Prestissimo Rose takes as a manic gavotte in jerky accents whose middle section runs off at neurotic angles. Operatic vocalism and aggressive polyphonic treatment combine for the last movement, which pianist Alfred Brendel sees as comprising six distinct sections. Rose accentuates the Arioso dolente aspects of the score, often rocking the figures in a transparent lullaby despite the learned counterpoint that marks the fugue. The hammer blows of fate that announce the liquid version of the fugue might well have spoken to Mahler, the ensuing passion quite convinced of its right to triumph. We can see that Rose himself has been palpably moved by this music.

Last, the fateful C Minor Sonata, Op. 111, to which Rose applies a chromatic canvas, an agon in chiaroscuro. The pursuant Allegro con brio ed appassionato maintains polyphonic sobriety and passionate ferocity, quite capable of breaking out of its self-imposed chains. More than once, we can hear pre-echoes of the Liszt B Minor Sonata in the midst of epic struggles. Rose imparts a dance quality to the variations of the second movement, distilled as it is by learned processes of subdivision and aggressive rhythmic patterns, several of which pre-date jazz elements. The introduction of the trill as a liberating force will not exert such power again until Scriabin. At the conclusion of Beethoven’s monumental harmonic labyrinth, Rose savors the fermata to the full, his having accomplished a trek of monumental proportions.

In his brief Bonus feature, Rose shares pedagogy as it affects this evening’s program: his having assumed the Op. 101 at age 16, and playing it for Robert Casadesus and Rudolf Serkin, the latter of whom remarked, “You don’t seem to know what you are doing.” So, off for studies with Leonard Shure—Schnabel’s American assistant—and beyond to work with a pupil of Egon Petri, the Busoni acolyte. Op. 110 Rose added at La Scala in Milan; the Op. 111 became a part of his work in Britain for the BBC. In Vienna, Rose heard Wilhelm Backhaus, a great influence, and Rose heard Myra Hess in England. He shares this Austro-Hungarian-German-Russian pedigree happily and thoughtfully, and his musicianship is all the more powerful for it.

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