Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonata in B?,
Arthur Rowe (pn)
Arthur Rowe is a Canadian pianist who has performed in Canada and the U.S. with various groups, and is a professor of piano at the University of Victoria. Beyond the usual publicity hype in the box notes (“critically
acclaimed,” “highly respected”), he is, I suspect, virtually unknown to American audiences. What a wonderful surprise to discover a pianist whose playing clearly demonstrates an affinity for Schubert’s idiom, performed on the highest level! Rowe has a strong technique, a beautiful keyboard touch, musical intelligence, and refined taste—all of which is put to the service of Schubert’s music in a quietly self-effacing manner.
Schubert’s dances tend to be ignored by most pianists in favor of the sonatas and the more popular smaller pieces such as the impromptus and the
. But small as they are in length and design, the dances—
contain some of Schubert’s most beguiling music. The German dances heard here are very varied in style—some are light and cheerful, some earthy and clunky in the
tradition, with heavy accents on each downbeat; and some are simply tender and moving, with Schubert’s typical harmonic twists and turns. Rowe brings out the changing character of each with a wide range of tempo and dynamic nuances.
The biggest test is the ever-played (perhaps overplayed) and ever-challenging posthumous B? Sonata, which continues to lure pianists young and old. Rowe’s reading is one of the most beautiful I have heard. Success with this sonata depends very much on the first movement, whose enigmatic marking
is so often misinterpreted by some of the most eminent pianists (Richter and Kissin, for example), who treat it as a solemn dirge. (Rowe, it should be noted, omits the exposition repeat.) Like several excellent young pianists playing Schubert today (among them, Stephen Kovacevich, Mikhail Kazakevich, Paul Lewis, and Todd Crow), Rowe adopts a moving tempo and keeps it going, without portentous exaggerations of phrasing. Simplicity underscores Schubert’s poignant expression and prevents it from becoming sentimentalized. The same sense of motion and simplicity of phrasing shape the long line of the slow movement, aided by Rowe’s careful pedaling. The Scherzo sparkles, and in the finale, the pianist’s unerring musical sense finds the perfect tempo to express its cheerful spirit.
The D 899 Impromptus are equally impressive. Here too, Rowe’s expression is sensitive and restrained. In the Second Impromptu (E?), his purling right-hand runs recall Schnabel’s velvety sound; in the heavenly G?, every harmonic change is underscored by a delicate nuance of color change. This kind of expression cannot be taught; it is in the bloodstream and the soul.
I hope that we will hear more of Arthur Rowe in future Schubert recordings. This beautifully played and recorded CD is highly recommended.
FANFARE: Susan Kagan
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Piano in B flat major, D 960 by Franz Schubert
Arthur Rowe (Piano)
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 11/1995
Venue: Aeolian Hall, London, Ontario, Canada
Length: 36 Minutes 13 Secs.
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