Charles Rosen - The Romantic Generation

Charles Rosen was born in New York in 1927 and left The Juilliard School of Music at the age of eleven to study piano with Moritz Rosenthal, a pupil of Liszt. His New York debut in 1957 was followed in the same year by one of the first complete recordings of Debussy’s Etudes, which attracted high praise. Since then his career as a piano virtuoso has included many tours of the United States and Europe, playing with leading orchestras and giving recitals. Some of the most renowned composers have invited Charles Rosen to record their works: for Stravinsky he recorded Movements for Piano and Orchestra, and for Pierre Boulez all his piano works.


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Another MusicMasters retrieval emerges from Nimbus. In this case it’s Charles Rosen’s exploration of the Romantic lineage in a recital recorded back in 1993. He is as ever a natural guide, refusing to vest in the music a weight that unbalances the musical argument.

In Davidsbündlertänze he offers a strong set of alternatives to the more deeply etched, strongly pedalled and textually denser playing of Géza Anda, and also to have ideas definably different from those of his eminent predecessors in this repertoire, Cortot and Arrau, amongst others. His opening Lebhaft [No.1] shows the way forward. It’s frolicsome, lightly textured, less chordally powerful, less rubato-enriched. There’s something dapper about this approach. He may be less obviously ‘innig’ than some of his competitors, and pursue a more untroubled, lightly-hued journey but one senses that Rosen feels the music to be more youthful and innocently conceived than is often the case in more stentorian and melancholic traversals. The Nicht Schnell movement [No.7] for instance is pleasingly but not emotively played. Whilst it may sound more aloof than other more charged interpretations it is perfectly reflective of the general tenor of Rosen’s conception. Anda for instance is more obviously ‘pathetic’ in his rolling warmth. Rosen’s view means that the extremes that others cultivate are not present. There is considerably less ebullience in the ninth movement. His accents don’t stab as deeply; instead this is classically conceived playing, unexaggerated and maybe a touch cool for some. Finesse of articulation however is a motor of his playing. Even in Wild und lustig he reserves ferocity. There’s no sense of pounding, more a cultivation of musical verities, clarity of rhythm and articulation, deft dynamics to make his points. Some may find Wie aus der Ferne - weirdly contracted in the notes to Wieausder Ferne – rather cool. It’s certainly not as expressive or singing as Anda or Cortot but its straightforward and youthful, unproblematic stance is a welcome antidote to more stuck-in-the-mud recordings. This is a fine successor to the LP he made on Columbia, where it was coupled with Carnaval.

Rosen proves a virtuosic guide when it comes to the fulcrum of Liszt’s digital demands in Reminiscences of Don Juan. His playing is buoyant and colourful, though it doesn’t aspire to the kind of potent appraisal proposed by Rosen’s American colleague, Earl Wild, whose dynamics register with huge verticality and whose sweep is that much more obviously arresting. This lower wattage reading has its own integrity but Wild’s visceral responses are scintillating [Brilliant 93786, a big Liszt box]. The two Chopin Nocturnes are delightfully and unfussily played. His sound is soft and pliant and there is palpable affection in his phrasing – a fitting judgement on his playing throughout.

Jonathan Woolf,

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