Schubert: C and D major sonatas, D840, D850

09.25.11
Shai Wosner
La Scena Musicale

By Norman Lebrecht

For most of my adult life, Alfred Brendel was considered the last word in Schubert, dominating the landscape with his outstanding series on Philips Records. Others – Uchida, Andsnes, Lupu – have occupied the vacuum since his retirement in different ways. But Brendel had an unmissable authority in this deceptively simple music, an assertion that it could be played his way and no other.

Shai Wosner, an Israel-born New Yorker, is the first since Brendel to announce a similar, monolithic assurance. Listening to him in the two big sonatas of 1825, both in a major key and both capable of being played by a competent amateur, I am struck on several hearings by Wosner’s absolute conviction in the literal expression of the notes and the structural soundness of the works. The literalism can lack suggestive subtlety, as it often did in Brendel, but it is a rock on which any listener can build a lifelong understanding of Schubert.

Between the two sonatas, Wosner gives a skittish account of six German dances and a Hungarian melody, none taken too seriously. The recording, made at Wyastone Leys, yields exemplary Steinway sound. Simon Kiln produced. One of the revelations of 2011.