Arnold Rosner’s Chamber Music Revived

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ROSNER: Violin Sonata No. 1.1,2 Danses à la mode.4 Bassoon Sonata.3,5 Cello Sonata No. 2.2,4 / 1Curtis Macomber, violinist; 2Margaret Kampmeier, 3Carson Cooman, pianists; 4Maxine Neuman, cellist; 5David Richmond, bassoonist / Toccata Classics TOCC 0408

I’ve had occasion to praise Arnold Rosner’s music in the past, specifically his Eighth Symphony, but here we have first-ever recordings of some of his chamber music. Working in this very different, more intimate medium, Rosner retains his basic style of using modes rather than enharmonic keys and pre-Baroque polyphony (as confirmed by the CD back inset) while using more modern chord positions to bolster the harmony. To a certain degree, but not too strongly, his music resembles that of British composer York Bowen, whose work has experienced a Renaissance in the early 21st century. Where Rosner differed from Bowen was in his strict application of these principles in his music. It is continually interesting to listen to but not as highly original or imaginative.

Yet within its own frame of reference, Rosner wrote music that was warm and loving without being cloying, and that in itself is always a pleasure to the ear. None of these works will bowl you over, but none will bore you or cause you to lose interest in listening to them. Rosner had a very clear sense of where he was going when he wrote; he used a lot of “mirror phrases,” i.e. the first two bars would be played in a somewhat inverted fashion in the second two etc., and his general rhythmic liveliness works wonders, particularly in the hands of these very talented performers. I’ve said good things about Peggy Kampmeier’s pianism before, in her wonderful album of modern flute works with Tara Helen O’Commor, and it holds true here: she is a lively and engaging keyboardist who obviously loves what she plays.

The same can be said of cellist Maxine Neuman, who tosses off the Danses à la mode with energy and élan to spare. She almost makes the music sound better than it is, although it’s fairly good to begin with. The second movement, in particular, has a nice swagger to it that suggests the Orient while the fourth and last almost sounds like a Hora.

By contrast, the Bassoon Sonata is dark and moody, just like the instrument itself. No attempt is made here, as Mozart did, to jolly up the instrument and try to make it sound peppy: even the “Allegro” second movement is on the serious side. Rosner’s score has a somewhat softer contour here than the two works preceding it, and bassoonist David Richmond does a splendid job on it.

The Cello Sonata, interestingly, is also dark and moody, not at all like the Danses, thus here cellist Neuman plays with a darker timbre and somewhat more angst. Kampmeier follows her moods beautifully, creating a real dialogue between the two instruments. The middle movement, “Moderato,” is not really lively so much as just slightly animated, and there’s a touch of Orientalism in the harmonies used here as well. In the last-movement “Allegro,” Rosner switches musical gears, using a restless 6/8 in the piano part (with some pregnant pauses between beats) to help propel and urge the cello along. The cello part sounds as if it doesn’t really want to sound animated, but is, rather, going along grudgingly, even stopping once or twice as if to say, “I’m really not in the mood for this!” Eventually the cello goes along with the piano, but never quite in an easy relationship, and this unusual tension between them persists to the very end.

An interesting and unusual disc, then, one that you will enjoy hearing.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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