Charles Rosen – 1812-16 Beethoven’s Years of Crisis

Sonata in C for Piano and Cello, Op.102/1
Piano Sonata No.28 in A, Op.101
Sonata in D for Piano and Cello, Op.102/2
An die ferne Geliebte, Op.98

Charles Rosen (piano) with David Cohen (cello) & Martyn Hill (tenor)

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 11 October, 2011
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Charles RosenIf ever there was the right man in the right place at the right time, it is the American scholar-pianist Charles Rosen. His book, The Classical Style, is one of the great studies of musical aesthetics (first published in 1971) and arrived at a time when the style in question, having filtered down through the later Romantic and Modern periods, could be viewed as an objective whole by music-lovers who, via broadcasting and recordings, now had access to a vast amount of music. It is an amazing achievement, and if there were a Mount Rushmore of music, Rosen’s craggy features would be carved with pride.

The title of this concert refers to the period during which Beethoven composed the four major works played here, as well as the overture, The Consecration of the House (although the list should also include the Piano Sonata Opus 90 from 1814), when Beethoven explored the strengths of cyclic form (which was later taken up enthusiastically by romantic composers).

Rosen has been in the rare position of being able to practise what he preaches as a virtuoso pianist, to which his substantial discography bears witness. The 84-year-old Rosen’s technique is no longer what it was, with occasional blurs of detail and an over-reliance on the pedal. His insight into these pieces, though, celebrated their markedly rhapsodic freedom with inquisitive performances that went beyond the notes. He was superbly partnered with David Cohen in the two Opus 102 cello sonatas, and apart from the weight and authority in their playing, there was a notable element of surprise and striving expectancy. Cohen played with a finely judged, romantic edge and conjured a ravishing sound from his beautiful and truly exceptional Montagnana instrument.

In the Opus 101 Piano Sonata, the way Rosen slipped into the conversational style of the opening was magical and very touching, the dotted rhythms of the ‘alla marcia’ were defiantly marked and he discreetly raised the level of expectancy for the massive finale through the sustained mystery of the cadenza-like slow movement.

Martyn Hill’s subtly coloured tenor voice and fine musicianship gave the tremulous romance of An die ferne Geliebte a special intensity, with Rosen’s stirring accompaniment ensuring that the last song’s reprise of the first delivered the necessary gently sublime punch. It was a moving occasion.

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