Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op.24
6 kleinen Klavierstücken, Op.19
Shai Wosner (piano)
Recorded 12-14 January 2010 in Friedberg Hall, Peabody Institute, Baltimore
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: September 2010
CD No: ONYX 4055
Duration: 71 minutes
Shai Wosner, a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Artist, makes a wonderfully lucid job of Schoenberg’s supposedly thorny Suite, its five movements living and breathing, riddled with expression and temperament. It seems only received opinion that Schoenberg’s music is forbidding; try listening for yourself and you may find that it isn’t.
Having ‘sorted’ Schoenberg’s Opus 25, Wosner leads-back to Brahms, a hero of Schoenberg’s, and pays both composers a compliment by juxtaposing (but not always alternating) a set of pieces by each, and persuasively so, for this emerges as a seamless cycle; Schoenberg didn’t put a barrier up but continued the musical line, or, to remember Eric Morecambe and his incomparable Grieg Piano Concerto with André Previn, he simply put the same notes in a different order. Once again Wosner makes sense of what might be thought Schoenbergian disorder, Opus 19 emerging as miniature gems, and his playing of Brahms’s Fantasies is both heroic and sensitive. Of course, with the programming of tracks both collections can be played as their composers intended; but their mingling here is very revealing (even if the gap between the final movement of each is too long).
Brahms’s magnificent Handel Variations (annoyingly afforded but one track) is given a very fine performance, the opening Theme quite gently presented, ornaments crisp enough, the commentaries that follow finely characterised without disrupting the whole, Wosner alive to Brahms’s wit, heart and ingenuity, the Fugue a logical rather than separately rhetorical culmination.
This is an impressive and imaginative release, well-recorded (if not without a couple of car-horns audible from outside the venue), which defines Shai Wosner as a creative artist and a thoughtful musician, his technique serving both the music and his vision of it.