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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat, D960 [41:19]
Moments musicaux, D780 [32:39]
Hungarian Melody, D817 [4:10]
Edward Rosser (piano)
rec. January-May 2011, Fraser Performance Studio, Boston, Massachusetts

Edward Rosser’s Schubert is like nobody else’s, not in an overt or self-important way but with every subtlety examined from a new angle. This alone will provide Schubert fans with fascination. The great B flat sonata has each phrase reimagined: the way that the first movement’s climaxes feel muted, not celebratory, the clean pacing and immaculate tone brought to faster passages, the omission of the moderato repeat, the unusual cohesion of the finale. The scherzo falls a little shy of these standards, in that it’s performed the most “normally,” but that is offset by the andante second movement, at 12:51 maybe the slowest ever. Rosser previously recorded this movement by itself in a recital which was one of my 2010 Recordings of the Year, and at that time his interpretation was a full minute faster.
A thirteen-minute andante in the sonata D960 probably shouldn’t work, and yet it does, because Rosser’s tone is ethereal and his pacing so strong that you immediately internalize the new speed and understand why it is so. It’s like a slow-motion deathbed dreamland. As with the rest of the sonata, Rosser rethinks every phrase, every pause, and many a dynamic shift. Midway into his career, Rosser dismantled his technique and relearned how to play the piano from scratch. He says that this new technique emphasizes “use of the wrist to achieve a fine legato, tonal beauty, and natural phrasing.” He now uses the Vengerova method, named after the piano teacher of Gary Graffman and Leonard Bernstein.
The Moments musicaux also benefit from this re-imagining. Take the tiny third Moment, famous as it is: Rosser doesn’t play it straight, not at all (see Brendel), but his mannerisms are interesting ones. You might disagree. The final Moment, at ten minutes, may test your patience, but others can be enchanting. No. 4, played in almost baroque style, Schubert meeting Scarlatti, is unturnoffable.
The Hungarian Melody is a wonderful encore, beautifully played; the booklet notes, including one by Rosser, are excellent; the recorded sound is the tiniest bit over-bright and the sound-space is very small. When I turned the volume up, the high notes had an unpleasant glare which is certainly not the pianist’s fault. Everything sounds much better on speakers than on headphones.
I did a quick double-check by passing that incredibly slow andante to two connoisseur friends, who both responded with interest and enthusiasm. One especially praised the affirmation of the final pages but criticized the opening, whereas the other described the opening as “zen.” Both thought Rosser did an incredible job sustaining his chosen speed. That this appears on the Connoisseur Society label is very appropriate, because for Schubert connoisseurs, this is a mandatory experience.
Brian Reinhart   

Masterwork Index: Schubert sonata D960

Youtube videos of Rosser playing Debussy: Serenade to The Doll ~~ La fille aux cheveux de lin