Seda Roeder: Mozart/Brahms/Berg
Since Seda Roeder arrived in Boston last year, she has been a force of nature in the Harvard Music Department, teaching, concertizing, and working closely with numerous composers. In December, she released her Debut Album, featuring works by Mozart (K. 280), Brahms (Op. 118), and Berg (Op. 1).
Roeder’s recording is a remarkable achievement, with electrifying performances of all three works. As in the live performances of hers that I have seen, she brings a sensibility which is at once extroverted and thoughtful to her interpretations. Unlike the live performances, (which, of the ones I’ve been to, have been marred by either a down-on-its-luck piano at Adams House or a noisy room at the Goethe Institut Boston) I can finally hear Roeder in her element thanks to the exquisite production quality made possible by her husband Matthias Roeder and Harvard composer Dominique Schafer.
Mozart’s sonata in F Major K. 280, like much of Mozart’s writing for keyboard, is fiendishly difficult to capture in its transparency. Roeder, however, plays with such structural understanding, though, and more than a little virtuosity, that this recording is both grounded and full of fancy in the Allegro Assai and Presto. I had to chortle with glee at the elan with which she brought the final movement to its close. Her interpretation of the middle adagio and its twisting, disjunct lines, revealed her sensitivity to the possibilities of tone on the instrument (a Steinway that belongs to Harvard).
I’ve had a special spot in my heart for the Brahms pieces Op. 118 since I learned them while I was in college. I find them alternately tender, bold, and as a whole hauntingly enigmatic. The first one has been compared to a “Sherlock Holmes” story by Edward T. Cone, with its meandering and elusive tonality, and sets the stage for the striking chromaticism of the set. The chromatic third modulations, especially in the third and fifth pieces, never fail to surprise me. Roeder’s command of the contrapuntal and rhetorical complexity of these pieces was very impressive as well. The A Major intermezzo, a classic in its own right, deserves special mention. If I were to arrange this work for string quartet, I would want to play the viola during the performance, since its inner voices have always seemed nothing short of magical to me. The expressive control that Roeder brought to these, especially in the contrasting, F-sharp minor section, gave me no end of pleasure.
The final Intermezzo of Brahms in Op. 118, in E-Flat Minor, with its plaintive and meandering theme, perfectly set the stage for Berg’s sonata. The Berg is a piece that I have heard Roeder play a few times, and each time I am more and more convinced of her total sovereignty over it.
I feel a little embarrassed gushing quite so much about one of my friend’s recordings – but is a reviewer obliged to find something to harp on? This is a thoroughly superb recording, one that I will enjoy having in my library for some time to come.