At Phillips, Shai Wosner’s Beethoven and Debussy are brief and lasting

Shai Wosner
Washington Post

By Robert Battey

It is the rare concert that I leave wanting more, but pianist Shai Wosner’s recital Sunday at the Phillips Collection was an all-too-brief affair. He offered eight short works of Beethoven and Debussy, and then the Beethoven “Waldstein” sonata, barely taking a breath in between.

The point — the aggressive juxtapositions of similar ideas a century apart — was well-made, but hardly necessary. Neither of these two geniuses need any special advocacy, explanation or “illumination,” and I would have preferred to hear this excellent artist give us a proper rendition of a complete book of Debussy’s “Images” or “Preludes” rather than the little morsels he offered.

Wosner, at 36, is a highly intelligent player in his prime. Other than the tiniest lapse in “La Danse de Puck,” he was note-perfect. He can sound impatient, as in “Reflets dans l’eau” or in the second theme of the “Waldstein,” and he can go overboard with the rubato, as in the Bagatelle in E-flat, Op. 126, No. 6. But his feel for keyboard color and voicing is wonderful. The immense dynamic range he displayed in Debussy’s “La Cathedrale engloutie” and the sharply etched virtuosity of “Mouvement” (from Debussy’s “Images”) and in two of Beethoven’s Op. 33 Bagatelles will remain in the memory for some time.