Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata in C D840 [26:27]
Six German Dances D820 [5:21]
Hungarian Melody D817 [4:14]
Piano Sonata in D D850 [40:09]
Shai Wosner (piano)
rec. Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, 11-13 January 2011. stereo. DDD
ONYX 4073 [76:23]
Clarity, precision and discipline are qualities all too rare in recordings of
Schubert's piano music. His infectious melodies are usually more than the performer
can resist and the tunes end up leading the tempos and phrasing.
But Shai Wosner takes a different approach. He knows that Schubert's melodies
don't need any help, so he makes no effort to mould the individual movements
around their themes. Instead he prioritises the architecture. The structure
of Schubert's movements is rarely innovative, but his use of traditional forms
is always effective.
From the first, quiet notes of the D840 Sonata it is clear that Wosner is thinking
ahead and looking towards the movement's climax. And when the climax comes it
is earth-shattering. The lack of rubato and the extreme dynamics make Wosner's
playing seem all the more insistent - obsessive even. This, combined with the
relatively dispassionate approach to the melodies, makes the readings of the
two sonatas almost symphonic. In his liner-notes, Wosner compares the opening
movement of the D840 with a Bruckner symphony. Hearing anybody else play the
work, the comparison would seem far fetched, but Wosner demonstrates exactly
what he means.
Given the austerity of his approach, it is ironic that Wosner has chosen works
inspired by folksongs and rustic country life. He explains that most of Schubert's
life was spent in Vienna, but that these works are associated with his few stays
out of town, most notably as a tutor to the Esterházys. Perhaps his intention
was to save this music from the pastoral and excessively Romantic readings you
find elsewhere and to locate it firmly in the Classical era.
In fact, Wosner's dynamic range, the power of his instrument (a Steinway D)
and the sophistication of his touch all make the results sound thoroughly modern.
His touch is precise and clear yet infinitely varied in texture and colour.
This is where subtly comes into Wosner's Schubert. Where most other pianists
would make their mark on this music through the shaping of the phrases, Wosner
relies on the sound that he makes at the piano to set himself apart. And the
clear, ringing tones he achieves in every register and dynamic make each moment
of this recording a delight to hear.
The quality of the sound recording helps to get this essential aspect of Wosner's
playing across. The bass end of the piano, not a region usually associated with
Schubert, is often put to dramatic use, both in thundering climaxes and distant
pianissimos. The presence and immediacy of the piano's tone down here really
allow Wosner to create the atmosphere he is looking for.
So what now for Shai Wosner? This disc is easily the equal of his previous offering
which paired Brahms with Schoenberg to impressive effect. I could imagine both
Brahms and Schoenberg appreciating this kind of reading of Schubert, the clearest
precursor to their disciplined Romanticism. It would be fascinating to find
out what Wosner would make of Mozart's Sonatas. As here, there would no doubt
be a certain tension between the text and the interpretation, but this pianist
has a knack for making the familiar sound fresh and new, so a few more discs
of the core Viennese repertoire would be very welcome indeed.
A knack for making the familiar sound fresh and new.