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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
The Last Three Sonatas

Sonata in E major Op.109 (1820) [20.06]
Sonata in A flat major Op.110 (1821-22) [19.23]
Sonata in C minor Op.111 (1822) [26.29]
Jerome Rose (piano)
Recorded at the CUNY Graduate Centre, New York, June 2001

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I’ve called Rose a formidable pianist in another review – of his Chopin, of which performances I find myself, at best, ambivalent. Here I think we find rather more the core of his musico-philosophical self in performances of compelling authority. The last Beethoven sonatas demand colossal understanding, much less technique, and the breadth and wisdom to attempt to encompass their Shakespearean variousness.

If I say I find his playing more akin to Serkin and Pollini than to, say, Schnabel and Solomon in this repertoire this has more to do with arm weight and colour and texture than necessarily matters of tempo. The mention of Serkin is significant, because Rose studied with him and he has derived from that experience, I think, a clarity, a precision and a watchmaker’s eye for minutiae that add up to performances of the utmost logic and control. This is not, lest you infer it, that they lack passion or feeling – but the passion and feeling are not paraded, they are hard won. It’s also not true to say that he is without idiosyncrasy. There are a number of occasions where you may feel like rejecting certain pointing, accenting or the like – I have some problems with the opening movement of Op.109 for instance. And there are one or two problems with the recording as well, though nothing like the problems that afflicted the earlier and undated Chopin disc. If you listen to the Allegro molto second movement of Op.110 you’ll find that there’s a touch of overload and that the climaxes aren’t really contained – the effect can be clangy and the result is spread.

Nevertheless patience and toleration will be rewarded. The chordal depth in the finale of Op.109 is powerful but never volcanic; textures remain clear and aerated; dynamic variations are not extreme. One can hear his superior sense of colouration in the opening of Op.110 and in its finale one can appreciate his long-term structural command; there’s a strong sense of expressive control, not unlike Serkin’s own but perhaps with a greater degree of timbral warmth. The Arietta of Op.111 is convincingly sustained; Rose may favour a certain spartan reserve at moments but he is never unfeeling. There’s also plenty of dash here, considerable animation and awareness of the visceral pungency of much of the writing.

In short these are consistently elevated traversals, strong on structural command, powerful of utterance. They may not win over all listeners but their integrity and seriousness are never in doubt.

Jonathan Woolf

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