Rosner: Orchestral Music / Amos, London Philharmonic

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New York based composer Arnold Rosner (1945-2013) composed in a style that was thick with pre-Baroque polyphonic modal harmonies and rhythms, and rich with Romantic colors, creating his own unique style. Opening this album is his piano concerto, which, incredibly, was composed before Rosner had any formal musical training. This is the first release from the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Toccata Classics.


It is encouraging to see that interest in Arnold Rosner’s music continues even after his death in 2013 at the age of 68. One of his major champions has long been Fanfare writer Walter Simmons, and his notes accompanying this disc are as good as it gets. Another of his champions has been David Amos, who has conducted many of Rosner’s works in the past.

Rosner’s style is hard to describe. On the surface, one can say that his music is conservative, tuneful, and easily accessible to any audience. But that makes it sound too simplistic and perhaps unoriginal. The more of Rosner’s music one hears, the more one learns that he has his own unique sound. Some of that is because of his interest in modal harmonies and the polyphony found in early music. But he also reveals a slight jazz influence (particularly noticeable in the outer movements of his Piano Concerto here). Most importantly, there is an emotional truth in his compositions. It never sounds like empty effects, nor is it solely written to entertain. While he never minimizes the value of entertainment, neither does Rosner shrink from its power to move, to stir deeper emotions. The Largo of the Piano Concerto begins and ends calmly, but travels a huge distance that includes genuine emotional turmoil and struggle.

Gematria is a work influenced by the composer’s Jewish roots, taking its inspiration from Kabbalah mysticism, but not literally basing itself on the numerology central to that world. This work is haunting, and reading Simmons’s explanation of its structure is a great help in absorbing it. The music is brilliantly scored and gains in power and intensity as it goes, and then unwinds without ever fully relaxing.

Six Pastoral Dances is a suite that recalls (but doesn’t imitate) Respighi’s Ancient Dances and Airs, except that Rosner’s tunes are all original with him. The suite is lightly orchestrated for wind quartet and string orchestra, and while it strongly references an Elizabethan style and tone, Rosner’s voice is not completely subsumed. His signature use of chromaticism is evident throughout. These are very pleasant, piquant pieces that would be a meaningful addition to any chamber orchestra’s repertoire.

Aside from the Piano Concerto, the other major work on the disc is From the Diaries of Adam Czerniaków. To quote from Rosner’s own introduction to the score: “Adam Czerniaków was the Chairman of the Judenrat, or Jewish local government, in the Warsaw ghetto from 1939 (the beginning of the German occupation and administration of the ghetto) until 1942 when he took his own life during the time of mass deportation of the population to death camps in the east…”

Czerniaków kept a secret diary, excerpts of which are read by a narrator over dramatic and deeply moving music. As one would expect, this music is much darker, more somber, than much of Rosner’s output. At moments it sounds like a very effective Hollywood score. That is not meant as a backhanded compliment; the best film scores heighten the tension in the dramatic scene, and that is the way this score interacts with its text. The diary is read in an English translation, and in a powerful, understated way by Peter Riegert. One is grateful that Riegert avoids the temptation of turning melodramatic in reading this horrifying text, and it can be said that Rosner’s music also stays away from that pitfall. It is moving, at times even harrowing, but never cheap or sensationalistic. One central orchestral passage, from 12:47 of the piece, is extraordinarily poignant at first, then alternately desolate and proud in its character.

The performances and recording quality are first-rate. As indicated above, the accompanying notes are extremely insightful and informative. Strongly recommended.

-- Fanfare (Henry Fogel)

Product Description:

  • Release Date: June 10, 2016

  • Catalog Number: TOCC0368

  • UPC: 5060113443687

  • Label: Toccata Classics

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 20th Century

  • Composer: Arnold Rosner

  • Conductor: David Amos

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: London Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Performer: Peter Riegert, Peter Vinograde