REVERIE Romantic Music for Quiet Times

Nathaniel Rosen, Cello
Doris Stevenson, Piano

with guests

Arturo Delmoni, Violin
Kaaren Erickson, Soprano

John Marks Records JMR 10

Playing time: 68:12

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.

Reverie 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. A shame.

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.

Reverie does 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

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