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Arnold ROSNER (1945-2013)
Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 30 (1965) [19:26]
Gematria, Op. 93 (1991) [17:32]
Six Pastoral Dances, Op. 40 (1968) [12:11]
From the Diaries of Adam Czerniaków, Op. 82, for narrator and orchestra (1986) [26:49]
Peter Riegert (speaker); Peter Vinograde (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/David Amos
rec. 19-20 October 2015, Abbey Road Studios, London; 15 December 2015, Digital Island Studios, New York (Diaries)
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0368 [76:10]

Arnold Rosner was an unknown quantity until I listened to this compelling new CD, and acquainted myself with the accompanying sleeve-notes – appropriately designated ‘Booklet Essay’ – such is the wealth of information and depth of erudition in Walter Simmons’ accompanying text.

Born in New York City, Rosner was initially dissuaded from a career in music, but even at an early age certain sounds in particular really caught his ear – juxtapositions of major and minor chords, as well as modal melodies – the kind of note progression that predated modern scales and keys until around 1600. This he soon attempted to assimilate into his own compositions, and the early Piano Concerto No. 2 shows this in the initial stages, forging a unique musical style then to be honed and developed.

Simmons suggests that the work is quite unlike any other piano concerto in the repertoire, and it is true to say that by generally avoiding virtuosity per se, and shunning the more conventional sense of opposition between solo and accompanying, it is somewhat different at least. The opening movement – designated a Scherzo, no doubt because of its triple metre – has something of an ‘Olde English’ feel, both in terms of rhythm, melody and harmony. This continues as the music shifts to duple time and back, with a resounding close in G major, or rather G Mixolydian, as jazz-players might more accurately describe it. The key centre of the slow movement moves to E, and in the opening piano gambit, Ravel’s modality can occasionally be heard lurking in the shadows. The almost spiritual character of the writing is interrupted by some powerful tone-clusters low down in the piano, before the movement closes in complete calm, the key-centre having slipped down further to C sharp. This, however, provides a seamless join for the closing Presto, once more centred on E, and with a return to the high-spirited dance-like writing of the opening, and cast loosely in Rondo design. There is also a greater use of syncopation and cross-rhythms, which adds to the excitement and onward momentum, despite a brief waltz-like interruption in triple time along the way. The movement ends on a real high with a kind of expansive chorale. Clock-watchers might notice that, while the duration is shown as 6:02 on the cover, it’s actually some two minutes longer in performance.

Although Rosner did not embrace or practise Jewish rituals, the numerology principles of the Kabbalah were one of the sources of inspiration for Gematria. There is an almost Copland-like emptiness from the trumpet at the start of the work, perhaps symbolically the sound of the shofar. Rosner creates sufficient variety and contrast throughout this single-movement work by using a sectional approach. The highly-evocative writing could equally stand as film or incidental music, such is the vividness of its effect and the orchestral colours and timbres he employs, right up to its highly-ethereal close.

Rosner also wrote a number of pieces encompassing the spirit of the Elizabethan period where his modal style proved particularly apposite. These have become some of his most popular works. His Six Pastoral Dances, Op. 40 – scored for woodwind quartet plus strings – provide a good example of this, while adding a few distinctly modern touches along the way. The set comprises: Intrada, Waltz, Pavana, Gigue, Sarabande, and Galliard and Reprise, where the longest is just less than four minutes, and the shortest approximately one minute. There are some occasional, though no doubt unintentional nods in the direction of Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances.

It is with the final work on the CD that we can really appreciate the unique power of Rosner’s writing. This is a substantial piece where the progressive evolution of his musical language finally becomes evident. From the Diaries of Adam Czerniaków, Op. 82 is scored for full orchestra and a narrator, who reads out harrowing extracts from the diaries of Czerniaków – chairman of the ‘Judenrat’, or Jewish local government in the Warsaw ghetto from 1939 until 1942. There is no singing, and the music is in one continuous movement. This result is at once both extremely compelling and yet eerily riveting, with American actor, screenwriter and film-director Peter Riegert delivering the text with exactly the right import and emphasis. There are no unnecessary histrionics needed here.
 
Philip R Buttall

Previous review: Rob Barnett

 

 




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