American Record Guide - July/August 2003 - Written by Steven J. Haller

Liszt: Piano Concertos 1+2; Totentanz
Jerome Rose, piano; Budapest Philharmonic; Rico Saccani, conductor;
Monarch Classics 20022 (Total Time: 57:00)

This isn't new; it was recorded in 1993 and is listed in my seven-year-old Schwann as a Vox set coupled with the Transcendental Etudes (reviewed below). Jerome Rose has now started up his own label, Monarch Records, and there's even a website, where these recordings and others may be found. I'm sorry it took so long for me to make their acquaintance.

Certainly this is a much better account than the Artisie with Norman Krieger reviewed a couple issues back, though his Totentanz at least offers Rose some competition. Opening with the familiar Dies Irae plainchant in the stentorian horns, Rose at once compels attention with his command of the slashing chords and crisp glissandos, then settles down for a poetic statement of the theme in more lyrical guise. Through all the shifting moods that follow, Rose demonstrates an admirable flexibility and consummate skill, expertly fielding the trenchant diablerie. Yet I was most impressed with his deeply felt treatment of the pensive Variation 4, just as his whirlwind account of the ensuing fugue had me on the edge of my seat. All through the piece it is clear that conductor Saccani was of one mind with Rose, and I am pleased that for once Variation 6 resounding in the horns was not dragged out interminably, setting up the powerful closeout.

Likewise in the E-flat Concerto Rose gives a commanding account of the opening pages, with due respect to the maestoso marking, as sonorous as you could wish; yet phrasing seems quite ex tern pore just as it surely was with Liszt. In fact, I found it rather refreshing that even in a standard like this you could never be sure how he'd play out the next phrase--yet it is always at the service of the music, an illuminating treatment of the solo line. In the quasi adagio section, Rose is deeply affecting, allowing the music to unfold in timeless fashion; indeed, I could imagine Liszt at the keyboard, lost in thought and no doubt gently swaying from side to side. Rose nimbly traverses the fanciful allegretto vivace, yet exhibits an enchanting delicacy, bringing out the humor of the piece as if with tongue in cheek, with the aid of the insistent triangle. But it's clear from the return of the opening statement and the closing allegro marziale animato that Rose is not concerned merely with effect, even in this music that fairly cries out for such treatment; there's fire and flash aplenty, but there is weight as well, though even Rose can't resist that last sprint to the final bar.

The A-major Concerto is a far more reflective work that calls for a certain restraint, and the unhurried opening pages set the pace. Rose enters gently, reverently, yet without ever losing sight of the long line, soon joining with the solo cello in a rapt colloquy. As the music gathers in strength, Rose gives it the grand treatment, building to the bold and brassy climax some six minutes in. Yet clearly for Rose the emotional center of the concerto is the tempo del andante that follows, deeply felt and satisfying. With the return of the full orchestra (allegro deciso) the Budapest trombones go all out; and following a gratefully lyrical reading of the songful un poco meno mosso, Rose and the Hungarian players join forces for an effective close.

Given that the recording dates back some years, a trace of hardness in louder passages may be forgiven; and although the top end of the piano can be a mite clattery (as in the opening glissandos of Totentanz), the deep bass more than compensates. This is not a airing of the Liszt concertos that explores hidden meanings in every phrase like Richter or goes all out for visceral excitement like Janis; these are quite simply exemplary performances at a low cost that will make a splendid introduction to the music, and the excellent notes by Richard Freed are almost worth the price of admission.

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