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TAMPA - Hearing the middle three Beethoven piano concertos in one evening is a rare treat. Hearing them played incredibly well is a delight that will stay with me forever.
The soloist was Peter Rosel, the finest pianist you have most likely never heard of. The Florida Orchestra under music director Stefan Sanderling accompanied him Friday at Morsani Hall of Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Rosel is a 62-year-old German virtuoso who has been gracing European stages for four decades.
The concert featured concertos 2, 3 and 4, presented in chronological order. Rosel performed each with a slightly different approach, reflecting the revolutionary changes Beethoven made in the concerto form over the eight years in which he composed the works. Thus, No. 2 was a fine example of clearly detailed, straightforward playing. By the start of No. 4, the pianist used greater dynamic range, as well as more freedom in phrasing.
Sanderling used a small orchestra, about 40 players in No. 2, and started at a slow pace for a movement marked allegro con brio. Throughout the concert, his work in support of the soloist was well done indeed, a few late chords in the No. 3 rondo aside.
Rosel may have talked to the maestro after the first concerto, since the opening of No. 3, with the same tempo marking, was appropriately quicker. Here the soloist's style expanded with Beethoven's material. As if to emphasize the importance of the great first movement, he chose the rarely used, powerful cadenza Brahms wrote. It made the whisper-quiet re-entrance of the orchestra an even more magical moment than usual.
Because of the addition of trumpets and more winds to the score, this concerto has a richer orchestral fabric. Due to the relatively small string section, though, there were moments when it was overshadowed by the winds and brass.
With the opening chords of No. 4 and his playing throughout the first movement, Rosel achieved a perfect balance between the virtuoso challenges and the presentation of a crystal clear musical line. Elegant string playing added to the effect.
This listener has been blessed with the chance to hear this magnificent work presented live by some of the great Beethoven pianists, including Rudolf Serkin. Yet it has never sounded so fresh, so new and so rich as in the gifted hands of Rosel.
The andante, with its war between the angry strings and gentle piano, was done with great sensitivity. The finale was as giddy and high-spirited as Beethoven ever got and put a bright finish on the evening.