Schubert, Then and Now

01.30.15
Shai Wosner
The New York Times

By James R. Oestreich 

The pianist Shai Wosner is probably sick of hearing that he bears a certain physical resemblance to Schubert (though his choice of eyeglasses only fosters the notion). His identification with the composer, however, clearly runs much deeper, as he showed in a superb rendition of the late Sonata in A (D. 959) at the 92nd Street Y on Wednesday evening. The performance was part of a two-concert series, “The Schubert Effect,” which Mr. Wosner, its curator, is sharing with the Parker Quartet.

The idea behind the series — juxtaposing Schubert’s music with more or less related works by living composers — dates at least as far back as 2013, when, in a brief recital at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival in New Mexico, Mr. Wosner paired the great B flat Sonata (D. 960) with Jörg Widmann’s “Idyll and Abyss: Six Schubert Reminiscences.”

Here, Mr. Wosner opened with Missy Mazzoli’s “Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos” (2007), a meditation on a Swiss adventurer who, in Ms. Mazzoli’s words, “abandoned a comfortable aristocratic life for a nomadic existence in North Africa” and died in 1904, at 27, during a flash flood in the Algerian desert. Understandably captivated by the tale, Ms. Mazzoli returned to it in a chamber opera, “Song From the Uproar” (2012).

In “Isabelle Eberhardt,” the piano enters tentatively over initially faint, diffuse electronics, and the whole builds to an exuberant climax before dissolving into the placid, otherworldly theme of the Andantino from the A major Sonata. This set a tone of concentrated listening that Mr. Wosner sustained beautifully throughout the sonata itself. The effect can be heard on Mr. Wosner’s splendid new CD on the Onyx label, which offers those two works and Schubert’s “Moments Musicaux” (D. 780).

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