BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concerts – Beethoven Piano Sonatas – 7: Shai Wosner [Opp.2/3 & 7]

Piano Sonata No.3 in C, Op.2/3
Piano Sonata No.4 in E flat, Op.7

Shai Wosner (piano)

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 20 October, 2011
Venue: Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke’s, London

Shai Wosner. Photograph: Marco BorggreveAmerican pianist Shai Wosner gave the only one of these lunchtime recitals (being recorded by BBC Radio 3) of all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas to comprise chronological works. There was clever planning behind the pairing, the first piece showing the influence of Haydn on Beethoven, and the use of silence in the slow movements of both sonatas, and how already in Opus 7 Beethoven had assimilated the lessons and was confidently forging his own path.

Sitting on a piano stool that seemed to be off-centre, favouring the bass of the piano (perhaps because only later developments in instrumental design extended the top range), Wosner was alive to the cheeky aspects of the C major Sonata, especially in the first movement’s crossing of hands, the game of tag that starts the scherzo and the quips which propel the finale, while not underplaying the emotional centre of the Adagio, reflective and nicely considered.

Cycles aside, Opus 7 tends to be an outsider in recitals. Wosner wondered if this is because, despite its large scale and unofficial nickname – ‘The Amorous’ (a perhaps scurrilous reference to the young pianist to whom Beethoven dedicated it, Countess Babette von Kegievics) – it ends quietly and without the barnstorming conclusions of his other popular sonatas. Here the intricate bustle of the opening movement carried over the earlier Sonata’s effervescence, and it may have been my own ignorance of the work that suggested the Largo (the longest movement of this expansive sonata) dragged towards the end, despite a nice ‘walking bass’ towards the start and plenty of loud and soft contrasts. The short Allegro (neither minuet nor scherzo) led into the relaxed finale – albeit with a more fervent and stormier episode. Evaporating quietly away (in the manner of Brahms’s Third Symphony), Wosner sent us out into the crisp, cool, October sunlight in contemplative mode.

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