Sunday, October 24, 2010

Review: Charles Rosen

with Christoph Genz, tenor
Oct. 23, Virginia Commonwealth University

When we think of musicological research's transformations of musical performance, we generally think of pre-19th century music; but a goodly number of romantic, even some modern, works are commonly heard in versions reflecting second thoughts of their composers and revisions, truncations and other tinkering by editors and publishers, and so could stand some re-examination. Robert Schumann's music, certainly: He had a lot of second thoughts, and much of his music has been put through the editorial mill.

Enter Charles Rosen, the eminent pianist and musicologist, who is marking the 200th anniversary of Schumann’s birth by taking on tour the rarely heard original versions of two familiar titles, the Fantasy in C major, Op. 17, for solo piano and the song cycle "Dichterliebe."

In the case of "Dichterliebe," Schumann’s settings of poems by Heinrich Heine, the collection grows from 16 to 20 songs, and the restored titles (all published posthumously, and separately, by Clara Schumann) bring more intimacy and emotional edge, not to mention a couple of the most hummable tunes, back to the cycle. The original fantasy, meanwhile, is even grander in scale and more integrated in content, thanks to the restoration of a more ambitious final movement.

On this Schumann tour, Rosen is joined in "Dichterliebe" by Christoph Genz, a German tenor whose substantial operatic experience is put to excellent use. His performance at VCU was intimate in delivery, as art-song should be; but he latched onto the drama, even theatricality, of songs such as "Und Wüsstens die Blumen" and "Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube," and put heart, as well as clean, refined tone, into the set’s many romantic reveries.

His diction also was spotless, which the audience's probably few German-speakers appreciated. Other listeners, not provided with translations of the texts, were doubtless more gratified by Genz’s expressive and communicative skills.

Rosen’s accompaniment was beautifully phrased and colored, and he made the piano into a true alternate voice in the cycle’s solo passages. The instrumental postlude to the final song, "Die alten, bösen Lieder," had special emotional resonance.

In the fantasy and the Intermezzo from "Faschingsschwank aus Wien," the 83-year-old pianist’s technical shortcomings were mostly offset by his mastery of Schumann’s musical grammar and expressive rhetoric. A younger Rosen with a more reliable technique could not have made more of "Constellation," the remarkable nocturne-cum-anthem that concludes the original Fantasy in C.

Most pianists will continue to play the "standard" fantasy, with its more lightweight finale. Now, every time they do, I’ll crave the missing magic, as conjured by Rosen.