Magazine article Gramophone

Classical Style and More ... Harriet Smith on Two Box-Sets from Sony Classical Celebrating a Couple of Connoisseurs' Pianists, Charles Rosen and Nelson Freire

Magazine article Gramophone

Classical Style and More ... Harriet Smith on Two Box-Sets from Sony Classical Celebrating a Couple of Connoisseurs' Pianists, Charles Rosen and Nelson Freire

Article excerpt

Charles Rosen--as anyone who ever met him, heard him or read him--was a man who did things his own way. Who else would have recorded such outlandishly out-of-fashion composers as Moriz Rosenthal and Leopold Godowsky in 1965 (under the subheading 'Electrifying Performances of the World's Most Difficult Piano Showpieces')? Today those readings are still impressive, if not as technically staggering as from the likes of Marc-Andre Hamelin. But what this box of Rosen's complete Columbia (CBS) and Epic discs above all demonstrates is his range and his refusal to be pigeonholed.

Rosen was an ardent Francophile (with a PhD in French literature) and clarity is uppermost in his interpretations of French repertoire. This works best in the Debussy Etudes (though, pace Jeremy Siepmann in his otherwise brilliant essay, Rosen was not the first to record the set--that palm goes to Adolph Hallis back in 1938). But in Images I wanted a greater luxuriance of sound, while Rosen's Granadan Estampe lacks sultriness. In Gaspard detail takes precedence over effect, 'Le gibet' losing out on inexorability, but 'Scarbo' leaps into life in the most mesmerising fashion.

His late Beethoven, though, is masterly, combining humanity and absolute understanding of what makes Beethoven tick. There are two versions of Opp 106 and 110 (Epic, 1964; CBS, 1970). The earlier reading of the Hammerklavier is more thrillingly hot-blooded, rawly elemental and more secure in its virtuosity. Other highlights are many: scintillating readings of Webern (especially the songs with Heather Harper); tenderness in Schoenberg's Piano Pieces, Op 33, and a superbly playful Op 2 5 Suite; a pungently purposeful reading of Stravinsky's Movements, conducted by the composer; and modern-sounding Haydn sonatas. And then there's Elliott Carter, of whose music Rosen was such an ardent champion. Two recordings of the delightful Double Concerto are included, the first when the ink was barely dry, with the ever-game Ralph Kirkpatrick, coupled with Leon Kirchner's glisteningly textured Chamber Concerto and Carter's Tippettian Piano Sonata (1945-46); while for the second for CBS Paul Jacobs provides a jazzy reading of the harpsichord part, Rosen as reactive as ever. I can't pretend to be a fan of Boulez's piano sonatas, even in these highly intelligent readings of the First and Third. …

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