Shai Wosner conveys drama and temperament in Birmingham recital

Shai Wosner
The Birmingham News

By Michael Huebner

Sunday, Alys Stephens Center
UAB Piano Series

Five stars out of five

Israeli pianist Shai Wosner left no doubt Sunday why he is in such elite company.

His resume includes such luminaries as the Tokyo String Quartet, Cleveland Orchestra and Chicago Symphony. Add to those a duo partnership with violinist Jennifer Koh, who gave a dazzling performance of Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto with the Alabama Symphony recently.

At his UAB Piano Series recital, Wosner matched much of Koh's fiery exuberance, but it was channeled to Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann. Beethoven's Sonata in E flat, Op. 27, No. 1, moved fluidly from gentle to furious, setting up signposts with pauses and sharp accents. The composer's rhythmic playfulness, so prominent in this sonata, was wonderfully conveyed through Wosner's precision technique and transparent textures.

With Schumann's Fantasy in C major, Op. 17, Wosner dug to the heart of romanticism. With broad strokes and sweeping gestures, he took a sparse but engaged audience on a journey through Schumann's imagination, stopping only for a few breaths. Wosner, in fact, stopped very seldom during the recital, preferring to segue between movements with about a one-second pause, or none at all. The practice worked especially well in this temperamental work, as he guided this majestic work through a long arc, ending with sedate reflection.

The pianist proved a master of pianissimo in the opening movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata, Op. 27, No. 2, the work's arpeggiated harmonies ringing softly. The drama of the finale came through with relentless urgency and startling accents.

Coupling two Mozart works, both in C minor, made perfect sense. The stops, starts and silences of the Fantasy, K. 475, fit well in Wosner's bold, capricious style and, again without pause, led smoothly to the Sonata No. 14, K. 457. The five-note upward theme provided solidity, the lyrical Adagio tranquility. The fanciful finale, played with finesse and sparkling clarity, formed a perfect bookend with the Fantasy. It was inventive programming from an intelligent, thoughtful pianist.

For an encore, Wosner drew from his improvisation studies with Andre Hajdu at the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv, tossing off a clever, romantically-inclined improv that wandered stylistically among several composers, but was all Wosner.