Nathaniel Rosen, Tchaikovsky Competition
laureate, has been recording recently for audiophile label John
Marks Records. Reverie (dreaming) is one of eight
CDs with which Rosen has been associated as cello soloist or chamber
group participant. With the sub-heading of Romantic Music
for Quiet Times, Rosen has chosen works representing the contemplative
and quietly assertive nature of his instrument.
The recording presents eighteen different
pieces - from Bach to Brahms and Beethoven to Bizet. Also included
are compositions by Elgar, Lalo, Debussy, Rachmaninov and Casella.
Most eras of musical history are covered in the sixty-eight minute
musical tour! Compilation records are somewhat dangerous in nature
- musically they can be a hit or miss affair. Musical development
usually takes a back seat in a highlight package that appeals
to some and not to others. In order to succeed, musicianship
and vision must be of the highest order.
begins in dramatic, yet unsettled, fashion. Intrada, by
Desplanes, is declamatory in nature and is performed with great
passion by Mr. Rosen (playing his Domenico Montagnana cello of
1738). Sadly, poor intonation undermines his musical ideas and
weakens the harmonic structure of the piece. The pitch insecurity
continued to be problematic throughout most of the recital. I'm
not sure whether the problem lies with Rosen's left hand or his
bowing arm. The insecurity is approached from underneath the note
and undermines Rosen's obvious commitment to the repertoire.
Also disconcerting is the sound of Rosen's
constant intakes of breath. The recording is so revealing, that
his every breath is clearly audible! Ensemble cues can be given
by any number of body parts or with the bow. Even if I mistook
the sniffing for emotive breathing while phrasing, it is still
most annoying. The noise from Mr. Rosen's proboscis even obscures
the final note of the opening piece, Intrada! For my taste,
the sound is intrusive, affected and completely unnecessary.
contain some finely-played and enjoyable performances. The Fritz
Kreisler Allegretto, Notturno by Alfredo Cassella
and La Vallée de Cloches by Ravel are all musically
diverse and, as such, sustain interest. Duets with violinist Arturo
Delmoni and soprano and Met alumnus Kaaren Erickson (singing Richard
Strauss's magnificent song, Morgen), are pleasant, but
undistinguished. However, accompanist Doris Stevenson is reliable
throughout, and admirably follows Rosen's meanderings.
Happily, the recording is in a different
class than the performances. The recorded sound of the cello
is one of several instrumental timbres I prefer on vinyl. Magnificent
recorded documents by Tortelier (EMI) and Rostropovich (DGG) come
to mind and soul. In my experience, the rhapsodic and stentorian
nature of the instrument is somehow diminished by digital recording.
In this case, recording engineer Jerry Bruck has captured beautifully
the singing quality of the cello's baritone voice, and left the
overtones and resonance in tact. While undeniably a digital recording
(Benchmark 20-bit DAC/Nagra D 20-bit tape recorder), the John
Marks team gives us the best of what the format has to offer.
All instruments are placed securely in the soundfield, pitch
definition (and lack of it!) is rock solid, and extension is all
that your equipment craves. Rosen's burnished cello tone is placed
quite forward of the piano in a wide, but not especially deep,
soundstage. The sound of the piano - a notoriously difficult instrument
to replicate - is pleasing, and imaged securely behind the cello
in the warm acoustic of the Recital Hall at SUNY, Purchase.
The production values of Reverie
are wonderful - with excellent artwork, notes, photographs and
biographies. All information about the recording (even the page
turner's name!) is included. Interestingly, John Marks is meticulous
in describing every aspect of the recording chain. He even suggests
s.p.l. levels for a more realistic musical experience. All the
information makes for great audiophile reading.
I have yet to hear Nathaniel Rosen's
other recordings. One does not win a gold medal at the Tchaikovsky
Competition without being a gifted artist. I assume that the
weaknesses on this recording are not endemic to Rosen's recent
outings or musicianship. While reading the John Marks Records
press release, I observed with some trepidation, that Reverie
might have a strong "crossover" appeal. I fear Mr.
Marks may be right.
-- Anthony Kershaw
Copyright©Anthony Kershaw, 1997