A recital devoted to three of Schubert’s last sonatas (D 845, 850 and 890) was too good to miss, so we cancelled our subscription tickets to the symphonic concert that happened to fall on the same date and bought tickets for that evening instead. Sometimes life or fate or the Jerusalem concert programme offers more than the individual can absorb at once, and it is not always easy to make one’s choice. It is at times like these that the rather apt adage about not being able to dance at two weddings comes to mind. True, we would have been happier still had Schubert’s posthumous sonata D. 960 been included in the programme, but hopefully that will come some other time.
The young soloist, Shai Wosner, sat alone at the Steinway grand piano on the stage of the quaint auditorium of Jerusalem’s YMCA communing with Schubert and his music as we, the audience, listened in rapt attention to his phenomenal and sensitive playing. Schubert’s last six sonatas constitute the summation of his approach to music and the world, expressing raw emotion and deep philosophical thinking, as well as intimacy and far-sightedness, and all this enclosed in tuneful melodies that take the listener to heights of rapture and depths of sorrow.
Gramophone, one of the world’s leading music journals, has described Wosner as “a Schubertian of unfaltering authority and character,” while Wosner himself has described Schubert’s last six sonatas as “six thick novels, rich with insight about the human condition” (taken from the programme notes).
Schubert was a great admirer of Beethoven, and was even a pall-bearer at his funeral in Vienna in 1827. He sought to emulate his hero in the sphere of the piano sonata, but his work bears all the hallmarks of his own unique talent, and conveys a very different message to Beethoven’s.
From the very first notes of the first sonata Wosner held the audience captive with his wide range and expressive musicality, bringing the music to life and setting it before us like a delectable feast. Alone with the piano, playing from memory, he took us into a world where nothing existed but the piano keys and his fingers as they skipped and danced over them to produce exquisite sounds. For me personally, it seems that anyone who can play complex music without having to look at the notes in front of him or her must be some kind of genius, and this must certainly be the case with Shai Wosner.
So here we have two geniuses (genii?) working together – one who composed the music a few hundred years ago and another who can produce it for our delight in the concert hall without appearing to make any effort, as if he was born to sit at the piano and produce divine music.
With the magical sounds still ringing in our ears, we returned to the mundane world at the end of the evening, still in thrall to Schubert and Wosner and eternally grateful for the divine world of music.