Jerome Rose plays Brahms: Piano Sonata No.3 & Handel Variations
by Michael Ullman
In one of my favorite passages, Nietzsche, who usually philosophizes with a hammer, tells us that the modern world has to learn to pay homage. Jerome Rose has no such problem. In his notes to this disc, he tells us that one of the greatest musical experiences in his life came when he was 16 and listening to the second movement of Artur Rubinstein's then recent recording (1959) of Brahms's Third Piano Sonata. The effect on Rose was "hair-raising" unforgettable. He then goes on to suggest that he was the right age to listen to this piece by a 20-year-old composer.
I am not sure that is entirely a compliment. The piece is typically clangorous, almost uniquely so in Brahms's œuvre, and almost shockingly dramatic. Some of its most appealing themes unfold over a hyperactive left hand, thumping repeated chords. And yet, as I listen - particularly to Rubinstein's recording, but also to recordings by Julius Katchen, Nelson Freire, and this new one by Jerome Rose - I hear a piece that consistently surprises, that leads in unexpected directions, that is the product not only of a young composer eager to shock and impress, but of a restless musical intellect sincerely seeking new paths. Sometimes, in Brahms, we hear a struggle between passion and intellect; at others, their seemingly perfect reconciliation. Here, the surface is stormy, perhaps too stormy at times, and yet the sequence of thoughts is intriguing.
That's how I hear it anyway. Rose plays the piece as boldly as anyone does, but nearly to the extent of the Rubinstein, his rendition is able to bring out the melodic interest in the first movement, the hair-raising passion of the second, and the almost zany rhythmic qualities of the third. And so on. Rose is a major pianist in my book, a thoughtful virtuoso. If I still prefer the Rubinstein - well, I know it so much better. Rose plays with power, precision, and care. His Handel Variations is, of course, much milder than the Sonata performance, and he is equally skilled at evoking its grace and neo-Classical shapeliness. So I am pleased to add these performances to a small group of Brahms recordings I consider especially eloquent and convincing.