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SCHUBERT: Moments musicaux; Piano Sonata in A Major; MAZZOLI: Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos – Shai Wosner, p. – Onyx

SCHUBERT: Moments musicaux, D. 780; Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 959; MAZZOLI: Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos – Shai Wosner, p. – Onyx 4136, 77:23 (11/10/14) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Already a noted interpreter of the music of Franz Schubert, Israeli virtuoso Shai Wosner (rec. 30 June – 2 July 2014) addresses two aspects of Schubert’s opera, his 1827 set of lyric pieces, Moments musicaux, and the second of the last three great sonatas of 1828, the A Major, D. 959.  Seeking their intimacy and idiomatic poetry, Wosner adds enough of his own meditative sympathy to claim these performances as authentic.

Wosner opens with the C Major Moment, a lyric in three pages that occasionally flutters into a dance tempo and then relents into subdued resignation. The A-flat Major, Andantino, most resembles a nocturne, much of it an adumbration of Chopin.  Wosner applies his parlando and legato to marvelous effect, even with the music’s sudden explosion in wistful, momentary agony.  The tiny enharmonic shifts in Schubert gain in drama and voluptuousness, given the composer’s subjective notion of time. The familiar F Minor, No. 3 regains its ingenuous poise. Wosner then proceeds with the tersely potent F Minor, usually reserved for the fifth position. The C-sharp Minor, No. 4 finds itself allied to the A-flat Allegretto in this presentation. Its dark Moderato’s strong ties to Bach remain lithe while its modulations claim Schubert’s procedure of “contemplative development.” The lyrical impulse often hints at melodic energies we know from Schubert’s Rosamunde incidental music. The No. 6 Allegretto, occasionally noted as the “plaint of a troubadour,” receives from Wosner that unmistakable sense of valediction, of fond farewell. Its incremental scalar progressions and truncated motifs respond to each other in various voices, finally returning to the drooping opening phrase, hesitant, perhaps asking, as in the eponymous song, “Wohin?”

Wosner interrupts the Schubert proceedings proper with a 2007 piece by Missy Mazzoli (b. 1980) that exploits fundamental and partial tones in suspension and in ostinato, Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos. Eberhardt was a Swiss adventuress who wandered in North Africa and died in flash flood.  It seems that by over-dubbing, Wosner can project “a disintegrated Andantino and . . .digitally diffused sounds . . .joined together into a kind of a musical time warp.” Warp or woof, I find the piece repetitious and unconvincing emotionally.

As Wosner points out, the opening, aggressive motif of the Sonata in A Major proves a through-composed affair, infiltrating every successive movement with its descending octave, Beethoven ethos. For both the Moments musicaux and this grand sonata, my own preference among pianists – Alfred Brendel notwithstanding – has been Rudolf Serkin. Typically, Schubert eschews the Beethoven developmental process for an inner, meditative complex of thirds and triplets that reacts lyrically and enharmonically to its own, delicately melodic impetus. Wosner permits the huge Allegro first movement its “heavenly length” in the manner of the “Great” C Major Symphony. The uncanny F-sharp Minor Andantino that follows, a ternary song-form, has Wosner entirely rapt in its “looping rhythmic patterns” that suddenly explode into a Bach contrapuntal tempest in C-sharp Minor. This music could have been conceived for an Ingmar Bergman existential epic like The Seventh Seal.

The sensibility relaxes somewhat in the Scherzo: Allegro vivace, which playfully has C Major and C-sharp Minor in confrontation.  The improvised ethos of the piece appeals to Wosner, who imbues the music with a capacity for spontaneous vehemence, again in the prophetic C-sharp Minor. The half step to D and then to F for the Trio section brightens the laendler affect still further. Schubert “borrows” from himself – the Sonata in A Minor, D. 537 – and from Beethoven’s G Major Sonata, Op. 31, No. 1 for his expansive final Rondo: Allegretto – Presto. A degree of contrapuntal texturing accompanies the flowing triplets of the melody, quite capable of bursting into an exalted song. Wosner’s tenderly diaphanous playing  – well captured by Engineer Arne Akselberg – will doubtless beguile those whose vulnerability to great Schubert interpretation remains boundless.

—Gary Lemco

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