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Poetry without words

12.01.11
Shai Wosner
BBC Music Magazine

Shai Wosner's songful Schubert piano recital wows Michael Church

Piano Sonatas in C, D840 (Relique) & in D, D850; Six German Dances; Hungarian Melody, D817
Onyx 4073 76:23

This 35-year-old Israeli pianist's first CD for Onyx was a revealing pairing of works by Brahms and Schoenberg; this new one puts him straight into the front rank of the Schubertians, Studies with Emanuel Ax at the Juilliard School must have made some impact on his artistry, but this music comes across as absolutely freshly conceived, as do his evocative liner notes.

As Wosner observes, Schubert wrote folk-music arrangements as a way of reaching amateur players, but those arrangement combined bucolic naivety with unsettling emotional undercurrents, which here sometimes break the surface. His playing of the German Dances has muscularity and a lovely transparency, while the Hungarian Melody has exquisite songfulness.

But what strikes the listener from the first few bars of the Sonata which opens this recording known as the 'Relique' because of the erroneous assumption that is was Schubertís last-is the aristocratic grace of Wosner's tone, and his expressive shades of staccato. There is a powerful momentum underlying the way the first movement casts about like Schubert's mythical wanderer, while the ballad-like theme of the second movement-with its sweet shift from minor to major — feels like something borne upon the wind. The sudden outbursts of vehemence die away to an uneasy repose.

Wosner's performance of the Sonata in D begins at an unusually hurtling pace, and proceeds playfully rather than with the tormented aura many pianists give it; the tick-tock theme of the Rondo makes way for some beautifully understated poetry.

Performance: 5 out of 5 stars
Recording:      5 out of 5 stars