Pianist Shai Wosner finds Schubert’s dark side

Shai Wosner
The Washington Post

By Cecelia Porter

Pianist Shai Wosner played at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Saturday afternoon in a bracing program of Schubert sonatas and impromptus, plus Joerg Widmann’s “Idyll and Abyss” (2009), a set of miniature fantasies that reminisce over Schubert’s most elusive feelings. Except for the raving outbursts of chordal fury, much of the performance was muted by the soft pedal, giving the music a strong sense of distance from reality.

Some critics rate Wosner among the leading Schubertians because of his unfailing sense of authority. That appraisal hands Wosner a heavy assignment. Schubert’s piano music and songs demand an uncommon sensitivity to the composer’s conflicting feelings that lurk beneath the surface of his music — Schubert’s dark side. Treading in the footsteps of that earlier Schubertian Artur Schnabel, Wosner captured Schubert’s lyrical languor, the swing of the laendler (granddad of the waltz) and the impulsive, volatile eruptions of anger and bitterness that showed unmistakably that Schubert had his demons.

The afternoon opened with Schubert’s colossal Sonata in A Major, D. 664, a ruminative piece that Wosner coated in brio and elegance driven by virtuosic incisiveness. The pianist gave an enthralling performance as he lingered in moments of sentimental rusticity interrupted by unswerving rage in a mix of brilliant octaves and swirling scales.

Wosner approached the four Impromptus, D. 899, with delicate fingerwork, revealing in full Schubert’s fleeting fragments of melodies and hints of the dance. Wosner closed the recital with a technically remarkable version of Schubert’s Sonata in D Major, D. 850, a work riddled with rhythmic oddities and stretches of melodies continually transfigured in Schubert’s unconventional way. But by that point in the program, Wosner seemed to treat Schubert’s insistent jumps in register and other extremes too similarly. Or perhaps it was too much Schubert for the day.

The recital was part of the WPAS Hayes Piano series.