by Peter Burwasser
It is very instructive that these sonatas are presented in chronological order. One hears, with the op. 11, written when the composer was 25, the Schumann signature intact. Here is headstrong emotion and theatricality, a bold and original sense of harmony, and a depth and complexity of texture that now sounds like a precursor to the monster works of the 20th century for solo piano by Boulez, Messiaen, Carter, Barraque, and others. But there is, as well, a certain callowness, or over ambition, that can render the music a bit clattery and even tiresome. Certainly the final movement, which clocks in at 11 and one-half minutes in Rose's performance, seems to go on forever.
By the time Schumann gets to the so-called "Concerto Without an Orchestra" (the pretentious subtitle was supplied by the first publisher, not the composer), a quality of maturity imbues the music, which has greater cohesion and a more refined dove-tailing of motifs, although it too, in this listener’s humble opinion, seems too long, for all its brilliance. The Sonata in G Minor is a little more than half the length of the preceding two, and this concision is highly welcome, especially as it is accompanied by a profusion of striking melodic and harmonic ideas. This last sonata of Schumann is, both formally and by virtue of content, the strongest of the three.
American pianist Jerome Rose has made the music of Schumann a central part of his repertoire, and the insights and intimacy that he reveals in this voluptuous material are deeply satisfying. He eschews the sort of grandiose, noisy manner exemplified by Horowitz in his famous reading of op. 14, instead offering clarity and rhythmic logic. Rose cannot render the exuberance of Schumann with any particular sense of control, nor should he have to. Because of the miracle of recorded sound, we can dip in and out of this glorious sound world at will, sampling sweet morsels a bit at a time, or tearing into big chunks of rich, gooey cake with ravenous gluttony.