Classical CD Review: Victor Rosenbaum & Schubert

By Caldwell Titcomb

Luckily the Boston area is home to a considerable number of world-class pianists. Among them is Victor Rosenbaum. An honors graduate of Brandeis University, he was chair of the piano faculty at the New England Conservatory before heading the Longy School of Music for 16 years. He currently is on the Conservatory faculty as well as that of the Mannes School of Music in New York, and gives performances and master classes around the globe.

Victor Rosenbaum displays superb pianism in his latest CD

A while back he issued a fine recording of Franz Schubert’s penultimate piano work, the Sonata No. 20 in A-Major (D. 959), taped at a live performance in Jerusalem (on the Bridge label, 9070). Now he has turned again to Schubert, taped this time in an empty Jordan Hall, with a pairing of the Sonata No. 13 in A-Major (D. 664) and the Sonata No. 21 in B-Flat (D. 960) [Fleur de Son Classics FDS 57988].

The A-major dates from 1819, when Schubert was 22, and has three movements. In the opening suave Allegro Moderato the composer indicated that not only should the exposition be repeated but the entire development and recapitulation also; and Rosenbaum observes both repeats. The Andante is in ternary form, and is followed by a rondo full of running scales, with a repetition of the first 84 bars (again obeyed here).

The B-flat sonata, with four movements, was Schubert’s valedictory work, completed in September of 1828 only a few weeks before the composer’s death at 31. I would guess that this is the most popular of the 21 with audiences. Certainly it has been the most often recorded; I had no trouble drawing up a list of CD recordings by more than seventy other pianists. But Rosenbaum can hold his head high among all the competition.

The insightful Victor Rosenbaum

The first movement presents a simple but sublime theme, though there are from time to time mysterious trills at the bottom of the keyboard. The entire 119-bar exposition has a repeat sign, and again Rosenbaum obliges. The slow movement is in the highly unusual key of C-sharp minor. After the scherzo in the home key, the long finale seems to start in the “wrong” key of C-minor (as Beethoven had done in the finale of his string quartet Op. 130). With the repeat, this monumental sonata takes more than three quarters of an hour to play.

In both sonatas Rosenbaum’s pianism is superb. He scrupulously follows all of Schubert’s many dynamic markings, without ever indulging in Beethovenian banging. His use of the sustaining pedal is judicious, allowing him to capture perfectly the passages where the right hand plays legato over staccato notes in the left hand. Phrasing is always beautifully shaped and tempos are unfailingly convincing.

Rosenbaum has provided an unusual bonus by writing his own insightful liner essay, in which he comments on each sonata and also finds relationships between the two works. This text, like the playing, is a distinguished performance.

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