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
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
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,
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.
Masterwork Index: Schubert
Youtube videos of Rosser playing Debussy: Serenade
to The Doll ~~ La
fille aux cheveux de lin