Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: in A,
Victor Rosenbaum (pn)
FLEUR DE SON 57988 (71:22)
Victor Rosenbaum’s performance of Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas on the Bridge label received a warm welcome from this reviewer in 2005 (
28:5). Although Rosenbaum has appeared around the country in concert and at academic venues, he is not widely known to
the public outside his hometown, Boston, where he teaches at the New England Conservatory and the Longy School. He is an exceptional musician in today’s music world, where young virtuosos, seemingly rising out of the cradle with the determination to play faster and more brilliantly than their rivals, abound. His values are those transmitted from past generations and revered by more recent ones, through the legacy of pianists such as Schnabel, Rubinstein, Solomon, Curzon, Cortot, Haskil, Gieseking, and Annie Fischer.
In this Schubert program (Rosenbaum previously recorded the other A Major Sonata, D 959, and the
on Bridge), most of the strong points of his Beethoven readings are in evidence. His piano touch encompasses bravura, delicacy, and the many variations between; his keen ear and able technique, plus his obvious affinity for the Viennese classical style, enable him to play with a wide range of expressive nuances, strong dynamic contrasts, and sensitive phrasing. Since this is Schubert, not Beethoven, there is a more spiritual kind of intensity here than that heard in his Beethoven sonatas, and the drama is somewhat refined.
The “little” A Major, as pianists familiarly designate it to distinguish it from the “big” A Major (D 959), is beautifully played. In his thoughtful liner notes, Rosenbaum explains his view of Schubert’s music, and stresses its dual nature: “Though there are some uncomplicatedly happy pieces, much of Schubert’s music has an aura of melancholy that colors even the cheerful work.” In all three movements one is aware of that hint of melancholy, even while enjoying the carefree but tender character of the sonata. The first movement achieves more weight than usual, as both exposition and recapitulation repeats are taken. The Andante unfolds with exquisitely controlled rubato, while the last movement bubbles appropriately.
Rosenbaum meets most of the challenges of Schubert’s last sonata, the great B?, in his usual musicianly fashion, but the crucial first movement (22 minutes long here with exposition repeat) is slow moving and a little ponderous. The performance seems to reflect the views presented in his notes: one reads such descriptive words as “chorale-like” (for the first theme), “a prayer-like, spiritual quality,” “dreamlike,” “dark and brooding,” “tinged with melancholy,” “ominous trill rumble, adding an element of terror and drama”—and thus the movement proceeds at a funereal pace. Rosenbaum is, of course, not alone in his view and execution of this movement—similar readings abound, among them those of Richter and Kissin—where Schubert’s
is interpreted as “not Allegro,” although the traditional first movement of sonata works of the period is almost always fast or moderately fast. (For perfectly chosen tempos and other admirable Schubertian qualities I would like to mention the recent recording by the Canadian pianist Arthur Rowe on Centaur.) The other three movements are beyond reproach, with perfect tempos and beautifully projected melodic lines.
There are two idiosyncrasies in Rosenbaum’s playing that should be noted, although in view of the many virtues of his Schubert readings they may seem unimportant. The first is a tendency to play the left hand and right hand slightly out of sync—an old-fashioned trait that often doesn’t seem appropriate. The second is that the pianist hums (tunelessly) in an undertone while he plays, which the microphones pick up all too clearly.
All in all, however, Schubert is well served, and this CD is highly recommended for the insightful, sympathetic performances by an estimable pianist.
FANFARE: Susan Kagan
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Piano in A major, D 664/Op. 120 by Franz Schubert
Victor Rosenbaum (Piano)
Written: 1819/1825; Vienna, Austria
Sonata for Piano in B flat major, D 960 by Franz Schubert
Victor Rosenbaum (Piano)
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria
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