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Schubert, Underground

09.19.13
Shai Wosner
The New York Times

By Vivien Schweitzer

Shai Wosner at SubCulture

In the not-so-distant past, the recently opened SubCulture, an intimate subterranean space with a bar, cinema-style seats with cup holders and a purple-lighted brick wall framing the piano, might have seemed an unlikely site for classical music concerts.

But SubCulture, a stylish multigenre performance space underneath the Culture Project on Bleecker Street, is the latest in a growing number of quirky additions to the New York classical scene, off-the-beaten-track halls where concerts of fledgling and mainstream soloists and ensembles increasingly take place. In a very short time the nightclub Le Poisson Rouge, also on Bleecker Street, has become a regular haunt for prominent musicians and fledging groups. (Unlike Le Poisson Rouge, SubCulture doesn’t serve food or drinks during performances.)

On Tuesday evening, Shai Wosner opened a two-week piano festival at SubCulture, featuring mostly jazz musicians. Later this fall, the 92nd Street Y will present several concerts at SubCulture, including a program for guitar and accordion on Oct. 8. The New York Philharmonic and the Y will organize three programs at SubCulture as part of Contact!, the orchestra’s new-music series.

Mr. Wosner, a young Israeli-born pianist, has been focusing on Schubert in recent seasons; along with several recitals he has demonstrated his mettle with an all-Schubert disc on the Onyx label. And Schubert was the theme of the evening here, beginning with the Klavierstück in E flat minor (D. 946, No. 1), enhanced by Mr. Wosner’s delicate, graceful pianissimos and lithe touch. He barely paused at the end of the piece before beginning Jörg Widmann’s “Idyll and Abyss: Six Schubert Reminiscences,” a series of brief, witty and whimsical miniatures with titles like “Unreal, as if from afar” and “Mournful, desolate.”

Mr. Widmann filters Schubertian language and gestures through a contemporary prism, complete with quirky harmonies and whistling. In the final movement, he quotes an opening phrase of Schubert’s Sonata in B flat (D. 960), which concluded the intermission-less program.

I enjoyed Mr. Wosner’s interpretation of the sonata’s first movement the most. His playing was imbued with distinctive (but not eccentric) ideas and an arresting tension and momentum.

For the encores, he offered Schubert’s Hungarian Melody in B minor (D. 817) and his own gentle, Schubert-inspired improvisation.