Charles Rosen plays Chopin at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Two Nocturnes, Op.62 – in B and in E
Barcarolle, Op.60
Mazurka in A flat, Op.50/2; Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op.63/3; Waltz in C sharp minor, Op.64/2
Ballade in F minor, Op.52
Piano Sonata in B minor, Op.58

Charles Rosen (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 15 May, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Charles RosenFor the record, no more than that, Charles Rosen turned 84 just a few days before this Chopin matinee given as part of Southbank Centre’s International Piano series. He offered a change to the advertised programme. The three Mazurkas of Opus 59 became two isolated ones to which the Waltz was added, and the Polonaise-Fantaisie (Opus 61) was dropped. Although Rosen’s memory and intellect remain intact, his technique is now fallible and his interpretations marmoreal. On this occasion, there was much that was awkward; missed notes, rushed fences and colourless tone. The opening Nocturnes, beginning with the harmonically ambiguous B major, flowed but were a little swift and did not allow the shapeliest articulation, although Rosen did catch well the music’s essential intimacy. Whatever atmosphere he created in the great Barcarolle – not much it must be conceded – was ruined by latecomers being allowed in, Rosen continuing to play after a short burst of applause, and which caused disruption. In any case, hiatus over, this was a rocky and earthbound account. The pair of Mazurkas at least had some lilt, but the Waltz was gabbled in its getting-quicker passages. Clearly Rosen is no sentimentalist, the haunting opening to the Ballade glossed over. Rosen doesn’t do limpid either. His dynamic range was restricted, too; if never too loud, and with plenty of power, really quiet playing was at a premium.

After the interval the first movement of the B minor Sonata continued Rosen’s relentless and rigid address (albeit the first and second subjects of the exposition, not repeated, were ideally integrated), but he made heavy-weather of the scherzo which should be quicksilver and leggiero. The wonderful Largo at last found the pianist able to commune beyond the notes, and now with some tenderness, but the finale returned to a foursquare approach compounded by a lack of technical command. One can applaud Rosen for doggedly getting through the afternoon, and he amiably introduced a Chopin song as arranged by Liszt and then another Mazurka for encores. One doesn’t doubt his scholarship as an authority on Classical and Romantic piano music (he also embraces works by such as Pierre Boulez and Elliott Carter) – his books are works of art and I am reliably informed that the previous evening’s lecture that he gave in the Purcell Room was “very interesting” – but this recital offered precious little illumination and there was much that was troubling.

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