EPTA - Spring 2010 - Written by Malcolm Troup

Jerome Rose Plays Liszt DVD

MEDICI CLASSICS DVD Jerome Rose plays Liszt
(Sonata in B minor; Benediction de Dieu; Funerailles; Annees de Pelerinage (Sonnetti de Petrarca 47, 104 and 123; Vallee d'Obermann)

Jerome Rose's final word on the classics of our piano literature, which started out so magistrally with his last three Beethoven Sonatas and a Brahms recital (see Issue #89), has now reached its apogee with the Great Romantics - Liszt and Schumann - and it is the Liszt which commands our attention today. Nothing sentimentalized or overly aggrandized about his version of the redoutable Sonata (with which the programme begins) as happens all too frequently with lesser mortals! Instead we have Rose's stripped-down view of a Cape Canaveral-style spacecraft set to withstand light-years of space-travel to the most distant galaxies. How well the tight Lisztian infrastructure stands up to, nay invites, such treatment - a marvel of aerodynamics from start to finish! After the forebodingly Wagnerian fall of the octaves at the start, Rose opens up the engine to the full for lift-off while the sheer exhilaration of the flight strains all Liszt's interlocking thematic engineering to the full though never the dauntless fingers of Rose at the controls. Most pianists would fail at such uncompromising speeds to let the music speak out but not so Rose in this vertiginous attempt on his part to put the Sonata's space-worthiness to the test for 21st-century skies.. It is a case of seeing is believing since, all the time, we have Rose's fingers both in our DVD sights and in our ears thus forcing us to confirm from all angles the prodigious nature of this experiment in three centuries of time-travel. Particularly notable are the hurtling double-octave passages throughout, the brittle sardonic laughter of the Mephistophelean scherzo-section (of this four-movements-in-one sonata) reminding Faust-aka-Rose of the negative consequences of his unholy Pact before it drives him into one final pounding orgiastic bid to break through the sound-barrier of his contract. All in vain, the foreclosure of the Pact cannot be gainsaid, with only the faintest hint of redemption hanging in the balance until the final B in profundis is sounded only to be as abruptly snatched away. This is an account of the Rose-Faust-Liszt pact which, while unquestionably achieving its intergalactic vision, at the same time places the architecture of the Sonata on a par with the all-glass-and-steel architecture of Gehrig and Liebeskind, and roots it fully in the age into which we have now entered.

Nothing could have struck a starker contrast to this "Music of the Future" than the perfect beatitude of the Benediction de Dieu dans la Solitude which followed — arising as it does from a vibrant silence with Rose's eloquent left-hand thumb-melody gliding among the Aeolian harp-like filigrees of the right hand, magically combining forces though seemingly independent of one another -the antithesis in their timeless heterophony of the driving intensity of the Sonata, while always eschewing the Victorian mawkishness which with other lesser pianists can often lie close to the surface of this music. Nevertheless, the long-breathed erotically-charged climax, when it comes, is worthy of anything in the Second Act of Tristan. Moreover, the Benediction - one of Liszt's own favourite pieces - had the distinction of being the first piano music to have a whole bar of notated silence in the autograph and it is this 'pregnant silence', sometimes competing with the sound for the last say, which both Liszt and Rose go in search of until the last lingering chords let this silence envelop us.

Funerailles, written for the fallen in the Hungarian Revolution, comes next in this superbly-crafted example of programme-building, replacing the departed soul's free flight heavenwards with the anguish of those left to mourn the dead heroes. As the funeral cortege moves out of sight, the pent-up left-hand octaves burst forth more breathtakingly than ever.

The rest of the DVD is made up of three Petrarch Sonnetts 47, 104 and 123 from the Second Year — Italy - of the Annees de Pelerinage and finishing with the "Vallee d'Obermann" from the First Year — Switzerland. These are poetic emotions recollected in tranquillity like the tales an old minstrel might recount of a bygone age to a strummed accompaniment on harp, lyre or even guitar. Just as Liszt, with pianistic hubris held high, had often sought to rival the collective weight of an entire orchestra in his masterly transcription of the Tannhauser Overture, here we have him disputing the need for a singer at all, despite having originally composed them as songs, so sure was he of expressing their 'programme' through his piano alone. With what sure a hand he conjures up in 104 the poetic conceits and contradictions as embodied in Petrarch's text: "I burn in the ice of your disdain" and "I would fane suffer death than live in suffering" or words to that effect. No. 123, on the other hand, is an advance-study in purest Impressionism and vaporous sonorities. Chopin may well have imitated bel canto in his music but here we have Liszt taking over the role of singer and accompanist alike - as he was later to perfect in his many magical song transcriptions. The poetry inherent in these shorter pieces literally pours out of Rose's fingers, sensitive to each nuance or mood fluctuation in his musical narrative. A perfect way to bring us back to the good earth of shorter-term human emotions as against the transcendental flights to which this DVD has subjected us to till now.

To round off Rose's ascent to Parnassus, we have the Vallee d 'Obermann in which a modest tenor-melody, from unremarkable beginnings, undergoes one thematic transformation after another until by the end Lisztian triumphalism carries all before it in an unparalleled and supremely virtuoso demonstration of two of the best his bag of tricks has to offer: cyclical themes and thematic transformation. And not only does Jerome Rose never miss a trick either but here has a field-day in showing what his reserves of power and infallible musical-mountaineering can do in going over the top of Obermann without once losing the plot or betraying Liszt at his mightiest.

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