New York Classical Review - July 2017 - Written by Bruce Hodges

Keyboard Festival founder Rose sets the pace with Beethoven, Schumann and Liszt

Jerome Rose opened the International Keyboard Institute and Festival Sunday night at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College

An evening with Jerome Rose at the piano is usually an evening well spent, especially if he has invited some of his best friends – in this case, three different landmarks for the instrument.

To kick off the 19th International Keyboard Institute and Festival Sunday night at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, Rose began with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 18, Op. 31, No. 3, a relatively gentle opening to an evening that would end in a blaze.

In the first movement, Rose–founder of the festival–captured its sense of hesitation and quiet humor, even if the rhythms could have been cleaner. But he surged forward in the second movement Scherzo, with fleet playing and agility in what sounds like a devilish moto perpetuo. Adopting a riskily fast tempo, at times the pianist seemed to be barely hanging on, but the excitement watching that happen was undeniable. At the end, the audience almost broke into spontaneous applause.

If the Menuetto might have been the high point, it was because Rose infused it with clarity and simplicity. Using a no-nonsense approach, slightly formal but with room for tenderness, the pianist reached one of the evening’s expressive high points. In the Presto finale, Rose found the required “con fuoco” immediately. Rhythms were again dicey, but offset by the pianist’s accuracy in the composer’s relentless dotted rhythms.

One of the challenges in Schumann’s Fantasiestücke is how to characterize the eight sections, in which the composer’s dual nature comes to the fore. From the gentle charm of “Des Abends” (“In the Evening”) to the humor of “Fabel” (“Fable”), Rose made Schumann’s colors vivid and distinct. The high point came with “In der Nacht” (“In the Night”), masterfully plotted, with the pianist capturing the union of Florestan and Eusebius in rhapsodic splendor.

Some inaccuracies in “Traumes Wirren” (“Dream’s Confusions”) were offset by Rose’s quiet wit, which flickered elsewhere throughout the evening. The sequences in “Grillen” (“Whims”) fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. In the tricky voicing of “Warum?” (“Why?”) and in the stormy left-hand rumblings of “Aufschwung” (“Soaring”), the pianist showed quiet concentration, unerringly letting the melodic line float to the surface. By the time he reached the “Emde von Lied” (“End of the Song”), melding heat and introspection, the scope of Rose’s conception became clear.

But for many in the audience, the pinnacle came after intermission, with Liszt’s complex Sonata in B minor. Rose’s pedigree in this repertoire is formidable: his 3-CD Liszt set was released in 2015 on Medici Classics, and was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque from the Franz Liszt Society in Budapest, Hungary.

Rose began with a moment of meditation, patiently waiting for the audience to relax into complete silence. The sober opening soon gave way to stormier sequences, and there was no denying the pianist’s heat and excitement. In the slow movement, nothing escaped the pianist’s gaze (and fingers), as he explored every corner of Liszt’s inspiration. And the pianist kept the ferocious fugue in line, with all voices audible. Rose kept his body language at a minimum, opting to pour energy into the composer’s unyielding torrents of notes.

The thundering penultimate section was gripping, full of adrenalin and a breathless prelude to the calm postscript that brings this vast landscape to a close. In Rose’s hands, the final sequence embodied a great mind coming to rest – actually two minds, composer and pianist. And after a short pause, the bravos, cheers and standing ovations began. No encore was offered, but none was needed.

After acknowledging the applause, the visibly exhausted pianist offered a few words of thanks to those attending, with brief encouragement to support IKIF. Rose deserves immense credit for programming such a beefy opening concert, while simultaneously masterminding the entire festival – two-and-a-half weeks of outstanding pianists, coupled with master classes and lectures.

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