An Evening with Peter Rösel: Living Large

Holy Cross Episcopal Church, a short walk from Tryon Fine Arts Center, held an elaborate “German feast” beforehand. Master Chef Geoff Carey, leading an army of hostesses and kitchen staff, fed us pork schnitzel(with whole grain mustard sauce or lemon), red cabbage, spaetzle (homemade egg noodles), buttered squash and rolls. Beverages were plentiful. The desserts were chocolate revel bar, Sacher Torte, Pfeffernusse, chocolate cherry cake, ginger snaps, apple galette and pound cake with lemon curd…illustrating, yet once again, we are greater than the sum of our parts.  There were ten tables of eight and a performer’s table of ten, all draped in red.

Two urns marked the front of the stage of the concert hall on either side. Filled with gloriously over-sized long-stemmed red roses (for Rösel, I expect) here by way of the silk road, they sat in a background of leafy bamboo rising tall above, procured locally. Towards a curtain backdrop and between these Byzantine ornaments, standing in shining black and golden wheels was Steinway & Sons Concert Artist Series piano 267, brought in for the evening from the local Steinway representative. This identifier would have been unknown to concertgoers. The lid was raised and the number was on the forelid, waiting to be removed or enshrined as an opus at a later date— a propitious occurrence, but with the responsibility of running with the best and carrying on the work of predecessors. That, in my opinion, is what it did…very well indeed!

Turning now to the artist: tall figure in muted black, and with whitish hair, enters stage along the backdrop, approaching bench from the back, avoiding breaking the line between audience and piano. Perhaps, it’s just that he looked good doing this. I think, rather, it’s that he didn’t want to address the keyboard with unworthy hands. He had that type of humility, as was observed by a friend sitting next to me, and he would sometimes touch the piano with long left arm extended when he bowed, though not particularly deeply, with lowered right shoulder and refined smile. Were I a schoolboy, I would remember his style and adopt it. I could never do the playing, but maybe the bow.

He began with Haydn’s Sonata No. 52 in E-flat Major…playing after this the last sonatas of Beethoven, Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op.111 and Schubert, Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 960.

A trademark of the former Soviet bloc musicians has been their technical proficiency. At the reception, Rösel told a few of us that technique of pianists the world over is higher than it’s ever been, but musicianship hasn’t kept pace. This would be worthwhile to explore. It’s difficult to see how one can get musicianship on any instrument without sufficient technique. Perhaps the Soviet bloc musician’s answer is, “Moderation in defense of the music is no vice. Virtuosity at the expense of the composer is no virtue.”

If we have been especially guilty of violating musicality with virtuosity, as yet another of my friends has said, “We should forgive ourselves for not knowing what we didn’t know.”

The playing greatly exceeded expectations. I prepared myself to hear something that was familiar, played very competently. Having the third and fifth of a five volume vinyl set of the Beethoven Society Recordings by Arthur Schnabel in the 30’s, and containing sonatas 18-27, these I heard again and again over many winters by the fireplace. There were other recordings, too. I particularly liked Wilhelm Kempf. There is no inferiority in being a musician who is as true to the composition as possible within the scope of technique possessed.

The reason we sat like an army of terracotta soldiers in a Chinese tomb through Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat Major after the intermission, and even the break did not dispel the pall we’d already fallen under…the reason we were immovable for thirty-eight minutes that felt like ten even though for a brief moment a cell phone asserted connection with a more present reality, master and 267 frozen in time until it passed…the reason has to be this…superior technique!  Used in service to the music. This was all new…to me! Still, I wouldn’t trade in Schnabel or Kempf, because they were old friends I’d conversed with frequently! The Beethoven was utterly profound, the Haydn sparkling. But, of all things, it was Opus 960, I think, that overshadowed everything, even the last movement of Mozart’s K 576 in D-Major or played for an encore with Bartok, in defining the reason for our experience.

Earlier works with great architecture in the right programming performed by a great artist can bring us to places we’ve never been. Certainly, that is true of writing like the second movement of the Beethoven, so far ahead of its time. Thomas Mann’s character, the later-twenty-something, brilliant but stuttering Wendell Kretschmar in “Doctor Faustus”, expresses one of his many conceptions of No. 32 this way: “The theme of this movement goes through a hundred vicissitudes, a hundred worlds of rhythmic contrasts, at length outgrows itself, and is finally lost in giddy heights that one might call other-worldly or abstract.”

So, maybe after we’ve shaken ourselves and been shaken by the enormity of the experience of the concert, which nobody should have to attempt to convey fully, certainly not me (but go ahead, give it a try!)… the drama and significance of wildly unforeseeable confluences leading up to what I would like to record also as “Rösel Redux,” in honor of Kym’s experiences relayed in the interview of our previous blog… maybe after all of this we have to remember Kretschmar. What we experienced isn’t new. Peter & Heidrun Rösel

Maybe now I can understand how Peter and Heidrun could sit at table, conversing volubly with Manfred and Christel and Joan, and then in English with all of us there, relishing exciting desserts and meeting new friends…as if they might take a short walk down Melrose Avenue with a few of those friends before returning to Pinecrest Inn, for a short read and then bed.

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