Classical: Rough and ready

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The Independent Culture
A BROKEN finger is as good a reason as any for cancelling a piano recital. Last Friday, Charles Rosen (who just happened to be in town) stepped into the breach left by the incapacitated Alfredo Perl for the BBC lunch-time recital, substituting his own choice of works by Beethoven: four of the Op 119 Bagatelles, followed by the "Appassionata" and Op 110 sonatas.

Rosen is one of the most brilliant writers about music today. He is, you might say, in a class of his own. As a pianist he is probably one of that breed who are too clever for their own good. He could probably play most of the standard repertoire by heart, short notice or not. But that does not make him an artist, and if he resents not being as highly esteemed in that capacity as for his writing, there are good reasons, as Friday's shabby recital made clear.

The outer movements of the "Appassionata" were rhythmically insecure and very roughly played, declining, in their most stressful moments, into a panicky fudge. The middle movement was plain and unlovely, to be endured rather than enjoyed. Indeed, Rosen himself didn't seem to be enjoying himself, nor did he take much interest in the sort of sound he was making, or in anything that ordinary, less intellectually-gifted mortals might identify as feeling.

He played the sublime A flat major sonata, Op 110, as if it were merely a mechanical construction. The only interesting point was some unusual balancing in the first fugue. Otherwise, Rosen's performance was routine, and barely that.

On Sunday afternoon, Peter Katin celebrated 50 years to the day since his Wigmore recital debut with an attractively varied programme ranging from Scarlatti to Debussy and Rachmaninov. To begin, in three of Scarlatti's best-known sonatas, you might have put Katin's limited sense of adventure down to deference to the music's origins on an 18th-century harpsichord. By the end of Mozart's C minor Fantasy and Sonata, his small dynamic range and limp rhythm seemed merely timid.

After the interval, three of Rachmaninov's Preludes were under-projected, like paintings that lacked the finishing touches to give them life and presence. Debussy's Reflets dans l'eau was played, not like the great tone poem it is, but as a burbling salon item for people to talk over. Even Chopin's most relaxed Ballade, the third, needed firmer rhythmic support and, towards the end, more passionate attack in the right hand. And in the A flat Polonaise, the proud Polish cavalry seemed to have been reduced to a modest trot.

There is a repeat broadcast of Charles Rosen's recital on 19 December at 1pm on Radio 3

Adrian Jack