Music review: Charles Rosen at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

By Stephen Brookes
Friday, October 22, 2010

You almost have to go out of your way to avoid Robert Schumann these days; it's the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth, and his music is being celebrated as far as the ear can hear. Piano superstar András Schiff gave an all-Schumann recital on Wednesday night at Strathmore, but over at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, an equally intriguing concert was underway -- one that stripped away centuries of convention to present original, rarely heard versions of two of Schumann's best-loved works.

The considerable brains behind the program (the highlight of the University of Maryland's four-day Schumann Festival, which ends Friday) belonged to none other than Charles Rosen, the eminent pianist, musicologist, author and all-around polymath who, having turned 83 in May, continues to probe more deeply and thoughtfully into music than just about any musician alive. Rosen teamed up with the terrific young German tenor Christoph Genz for the song cycle "Dichterliebe," restoring four songs that Schumann originally included but later took out (apparently for commercial reasons).

It was a memorable performance. Genz has an extremely clear, light voice, effortless and natural throughout its range, and his take on the songs was expressive but never overcooked. Restoring the four songs, meanwhile, was simply brilliant; each was a small gem, and together they extended the dramatic arc and brought new depth and interest to the entire work.

Rosen himself opened the evening with the original three-movement version of the Fantasia in C for Piano, Op. 17, which Schumann reworked and expanded after it was rejected by publishers. Rosen's technique -- just to get this out of the way -- isn't as powerful or precise as it was in his prime, but it was a fascinating reading nonetheless, deeply personal and shorn of all dross. When Charles Rosen plays, you can't help but listen; this is a musician who always has something important to say.

Brookes is a freelance writer.

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