6 Comments

  1. Philip: Thank you for mentioning me! As you suggest, I was probably being over-charitable ascribing the shortcomings of the performance to Rosen’s advancing years. I was simply at a loss otherwise to account for what I was hearing.

    Fran: Anything, and I think I really mean anything, other than Lang Lang. I tried; I really did. Now never again… (I disagree when it comes to Brendel though!)

    • Hello Mark, and welcome! Thanks for joining in the debate – and very relieved to hear your views on Lang Lang! Maybe he’ll grow up into a mature, deep-thinking musician – but I’m not hopeful!

  2. Dear Frances, I much enjoy your blogs, which are almost invariably highly perceptive and engaging to read, but I fear that on this occasion your admiration for Charles Rosen’s venerability and deserved respect as a teacher and musicologist have obscured your critical judgement of his playing. Boulezian’s blog: http://boulezian.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-rosen-chopin-15-may-2011.html and its readers’ comments are close to the mark, in my view. I just cannot agree with you that in his Nocturnes “the mood was perfect, dreamy and relaxed” or that in the Barcarolle he “achieved some wonderful insights and intensity, and moments of great tenderness”. In fact they were the worst examples of the clumsy lack of charm or poetry, not to mention unforgivable smudged pedalling, which chacterised everything in the first half. The second half was just a little bit better, except for his memory lapse in the slow movement of the B minor Sonata, which gave me an agonising few seconds wondering whether he would be able to recover, and then nervous apprehension for the remaining several minutes of the movement that it might happen again. The basic problem was not any failing of technique due to age (in this one respect I disagree with Mark Berry of “Boulezian”) – in fact his best playing was a brilliant performance of the immensely taxing (in terms of both fingerwork and stamina) final movement of the Sonata, which mercifully ended happily what had otherwise been a dismal recital. The real problem must lie in Rosen’s mental attitude to playing – the intellectuallism which serves him so well in the analysis of musical form and the theory of human musical appreciation seems, paradoxically, to impact negatively on the communication of sentiment through his playing. The serious pedalling problem can perhaps be attributed to a hearing problem (to which he admitted in his fascinating talk in the Purcell Room the previous afternoon) but I fear that more likely it is just careless sloppiness, which may perhaps be a function of advancing age. It really does seem to me that the time has come for Charles Rosen to bring his public performance career to a close but continue with his teaching and writing – the talk demonstrated clearly that his formidable intellectual powers of analysis of form and the philosophy and psychology of musical understanding are undiminished.

    • Philip, Thank you for taking the trouble to write at such length in response to my review of Charles Rosen. I think the differences in opinion serve to highlight the fact that live music and concert-going is a very subjective experience. I enjoyed Rosen’s recital: I went to it with very low expectations, as the last time I heard him (a couple of years ago, playing Beethoven), it was stodgy, dull and overly intellectual, and I wanted to convey that enjoyment in my review. And to be honest, I would rather sit through 2 hours of Rosen’s wobbles and senior moments, than endure Lang-Lang’s hideous, rockstar showboating, or Brendel’s didactic delivery.

  3. I couldn’t make it to this concert (it was my wife’s birthday) butyour review makes me wish I could have heard it.

    Many years ago, I was at a Beethoven “study day” at the South Bank, nd Charles Rosen was one of the speakers. he gave a talk entitled “Touch in Beethoven’s Sonatas”, and, seated at the piano, he spoke about and illustrated with examples of the variety of sounds that were made by different types of touch, and of the kind of sounds appropriate for interpretation of these works. (I subsequently heard Brendel give a talk on a similar subject in Edinburgh: he was equally interesting, but Rosen is the more charismatic speaker.) Rosen held his audience spellbound, despite the (some might say) esoteric nature of his subject. When discussion was thrown open to the audience afterwards, someone opined that it was permissible to adapt the marked tempo or dynamics to make points of interpretation. “How do you feel about changing the notes?” Rosen asked.

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