Leonard Rose = Cello Concerti by DVORAK, SAINT-SAENS; Cello Sonatas by BEETHOVEN, BRAHMS; TCHAIKOVSKY: Rococo Variations – Leonard Rose, cello – Doremi

Doremi provides us a template of what a recorded tribute to Leonard Rose should contain, including several significant chamber-music additions.

Leonard Rose = DVORAK: Cello Concerto in b minor, Op. 104; SAINT-SAENS: Cello Concerto No. 1 in a minor, Op. 33; TCHAIKOVSKY: Rococo Variations, Op. 33; BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonata in D Major, Op. 102, No. 2; Cello Sonata in A Major, Op. 69; BRAHMS: Cello Sonata No. 1 in e minor, Op. 38; BEETHOVEN: Adagio Cantabile and Allegro vivace from Cello Sonata No. 3 in A, Op. 69 – Leonard Rose, cello/ Orchestre National de l’ORTF/ Charles Dutoit (Dvorak)/ Radio Luxembourg Orchestra/ Louis de Froment/ (Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky)/ Eugene Istomin, piano (Beethoven, Op. 102, No. 2)/  Nadia Reisenberg, piano – Doremi DHR-8038/39 (2 CDs) (11/18/16) 75:35; 77:00 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Admirers recall cello virtuoso Leonard Rose (1918-1984) as a fine performer and master teacher, who, in the words of Stephen Kates, had a wonderful ability to make his students perform at a higher level, and that one would exit a lesson with Rose “…feeling like a million dollars. He had a wonderful way to make you play better that was not methodology, but he gave you confidence. He made you feel good about yourself when you were doing it.” In one conversation I had with the late Bernard Greenhouse, however, a different portrait emerges: “Leonard wanted to be a superstar; and though he attained fame and some glamour with the Trio of him and Stern and Istomin, it wasn’t all he wanted. . .even that lovely 1662 Amati did not compensate for the status he sought.”  Ironically, the politics of the Trio would often become contentious – especially because of Isaac Stern – with the members’ bickering over such trivialities as who would walk onto the stage first.  Nevertheless, the recorded documents that survive of Leonard Rose – especially those collaborations with Mitropoulos, Ormandy, and Bernstein – reveal as deeply committed interpreter of the classic repertory whose cello tone would sing gloriously in the music he loved.

Doremi restores a clutch of magnificent Rose collaborations (1961-1973) in excellent sound that significantly add to the legacy, including some new repertory in chamber music.  The major addition comes in the form an exquisitely wrought 1895 Dvorak Cello Concerto from French Radio under Charles Dutoit (6 December 1967), articulated in broad, lyrically fluent terms. The Adagio ma non troppo movement – in which Dvořák quotes from the song Kéž duch můj sám (“Leave me alone”) – rings with melancholy passion, the expression of the composer’s frustrated love for Josefina Čermáková. This song had been among her favorites. Josefina did not return his feelings, and Dvořák ultimately married her younger sister Anna. The secondary theme from the Finale: Allegro moderato, too, sings with a heartfelt sincerity from Rose that proves a visceral realization of this immensely satisfying masterpiece.

The 1872 Cello Concerto No. 1 by Saint-Saens had a vivid commercial recording by Rose with Dimitri Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic on CBS (ML 4425); here (15 November 1961), Rose teams with Louis de Froment (1921-1994) from Radio Luxembourg for an equally fluid and fleet performance, featuring Rose’s lush chords and sweltering attacks in the first movement, and his wonderful legato in the last movement. The seamless writing owes debts to both Beethoven and Mendelssohn, soldering the music into a coherent and self-referential whole. The second movement, a genteel gavotte, enjoys a casual, leisurely pace that introduces yet another of the Saint-Saens melodic gifts, set in several of the cello’s generous registers. The Luxembourg Orchestra no less demonstrates an ease of execution that urges the music to its “operatic” aria finale, with an intimate melody that could easily have suited Samson et Dalilah. The last six minutes deliver to Leonard Rose in his peerless, virtuosic mode, his lofty tone rising in sweeping gestures to a voluptuous conclusion.

Rose and Froment work together from the same series of concerts (17 November 1961) for Tchaikovsky’s popular Rococo Variations of 1877, a work that benefits from the composer’s enchantment with Classical (i.e., Mozart) and galant musical styles. As is well known, Tchaikovsky’s original ideas for the work underwent severe cuts and emendations, at the advice (and a degree of usurpation) from Wilhelm Fitzenhagen. Nevertheless, the polite and balletic gestures that infiltrate this gratifying piece find a natural exponent in Leonard Rose, who savors each melodic invention for its sonorous pleasure. The orchestral colors that intertwine with Rose’s Amati often recall the limpid, affecting melancholy in Lenski’s aria from Evgeny Onegin. The work sports an interlude-cadenza in which Rose demonstrates the sheer range of effects over which he reigns supreme, prior to the most lovely of the variations with pizzicato strings and under the solo flute. The last sequence, flashy as ever, sheds sparks and touches of incandescent beauty that end in a typical, Tchaikovsky ballet peroration.

Disc 2 contains a series of cello chamber pieces that beg the simple question: why did CBS not produce a complete set of the Beethoven Cello Sonatas with Rose and Istomin to rival the set on RCA with Piatagorsky and Solomon? From the Stratford Summer Festival, Canada, 1969 – a venue that often included pianist Glenn Gould and violinist Oscar Shumsky – we have the 1815 D Major Sonata, the only example in this genre in which Beethoven included a fully-formed Adagio movement. Highly concentrated, this declamatory music creates an equal weight between the two instruments, even engaging in a fugue, typical of Beethoven’s late style fascination with learned, Baroque procedures. True to the marking for the second movement – Adagio con molto sentiment d’affeto – Istomin and Rose create a bower of musical bliss that constitutes its own world of hymn and emotionally compelling arabesques in improvisatory mode. The Finale has its own engaging sense of imagination, moving from a strict fugato to a kind of variation on Handel’s “And with His stripes” from Messiah, an affect we will hear again in the monumental overture The Consecration of the House.  A reverential silence surrounds the late pages of the Adagio that completely warrant the price of admission for this generous set from Doremi.

The Beethoven A Major Sonata and Brahms e minor Sonata derive from “The Listening Room” (third anniversary in January 1973) sessions at WQXR-FM, New York, with host Robert Sherman, son of esteemed pianist and pedagogue Nadia Reisenberg (1904-1983). The gorgeous Rose tone opens this greatest of the Beethoven cycle, then Rose stays on a pedal point while Reisenberg executes a resolute cadenza. They reverse the poles, and then move a pattern of rising scales and falling arpeggios that assumes heroic proportions. In the late development, Rose will play the lovely theme against Reisenberg’s triplets. Reisenberg had given up a splendid solo career, but she maintained a healthy, active service in chamber music, to our collective benefit. This sonata has the only scherzo in his set of five, and its upbeat rhythm refuses to quit. Each performer hurls staccato and scalar volleys at the other, answered with ironic affection. The hesitant Adagio cantabile yields to the virtuosic Allegro vivace, in which short utterances fro Rose elicit percussive notes from Reisenberg. Leaping scale-figures and vigorous octaves mark the development section. The coda deliberately engages in a series of false resolutions, speeding the silken momentum from eighths to sixteenths in a frustrated, often chromatic, search for the A Major home. But when we do arrive, Leonard Rose exhorts the first bar repeatedly and triumphantly over Reisenberg’s equally decisive eighth notes.

There exists little Brahms in the recorded output of either Rose or Reisenberg – for Rose, the Double Concerto in various collaborations; for Reisenberg, the E-flat Clarinet Sonata in its original and viola formats – so, again, wherefore CBS on the issue of Leonard Rose? The opening theme from the e minor Sonata should “sell” this fine program to any devotee of the 1864 cello work, with its explicit homage to Bach’s The Art of Fugue, specifically, Contrapunctus XIII. Rose and Reisenberg address its thick textures with resolute, albeit distinctly clear, authority. The many ferocious sections of dialogue between the instruments find a tender repose in Rose’s middle register, over sweet Reisenberg arpeggios and alluring triplet figures that glide into E Major. The a minorAllegretto quasi Menuetto” hints at Vienna with an ungainly waltz touched by rustic color. The Trio section modulates into an eerie f-sharp minor, a move we might attribute to Mahler. Reisenberg’s hands in sixteenths shadow Rose’s melody in a glassy, surreal affect. The Bach homage begins the Allegro with a three-voice fugue that simultaneously recalls the very Beethoven D Major Sonata on this program. The mood shifts at 180 degrees to a pastoral evocation, which in turn will suffer intrusion by the resolute fugal motif. Whatever “dire” expectations we assume for the coda dissipate with the piu presto that becomes another race course, the two, perfectly-matched principals in happy contention for supremacy. Bravo!

For an encore, Rose and Reisenberg repeat the last two movements of the Beethoven A Major Sonata, with perhaps even more passionate relish and thrilling élan than before!

—Gary Lemco

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