CD Review: Shai Wosner-Schoenberg/Brahms International Piano Choice

11.01.10
Shai Wosner
International Piano

BY NICHOLAS SALWEY

The works of Brahms and Schoenberg provide a fascinating coupling, for despite Schoenberg's article ('Brahms the Progressive', written for Brahms's centenary in 1933) it is the differences between the two composers that are so much more apparent than the similarities. Shai Wosner takes things one major step further by interweaving Brahms's seven Fantasies op.116. with Schoenberg's Six Piano Pieces op.116. It's an interesting concept, instantly bringing to one's attention the motivic economy that characterizes both sets and forcing one to listen to each anew. That said, is it an idea to which one would return for repeated listening? I fear not, but nonetheless this is pianism of the very highest order, involving and full-blooded, with such burnished passion from Wosner that it is a surprise that these are not live performances.

Wosner lives dangerously and his are thrilling accounts of op.116 and the Handel Variations, with brisk tempos and huge rubato, and with little of the grandiloquence of the likes of Katchen and Lupu. The Schoenberg pieces also reveal why Wosner has been so acclaimed, with an immensely varied tonal palette, from Debussyan, bell-lie sonorities to the most astringent of persuasive writing, a vast range of dynamics, and wit the rhythm carefully controlled with silence and rests clearly part of the musical fabric. The last of Schoenberg's Six Pieces composed in 1911, after he had attended Mahler's funeral -- provides an extraordinary demonstration of the delicacy and subtlety of Wosner's artistry. In short, a fascinating disc: this is a pianist to watch.