The conventional narrative absorbed by almost anyone who has taken a basic music history course holds that Wagner and his successors chipped away at tonality, and Schoenberg finally did away with it. The "conservative" Brahms, however, was at least as much of an influence on Schoenberg as Wagner was, and Schoenberg himself said as much. The entire twelve-tone system found inspiration in the compact web of motivic development that was the hallmark of Brahms' late style. This intriguing release by Israeli pianist Shai Wosner attempts to exploit this connection, not just by juxtaposing relevant works, but also, in the album's centerpiece, interleaving them: the Seven Fantasies, Op. 116, of Brahms are presented in alternation with Schoenberg's Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19. This may sound like a move that's more didactic than musical, but there's no denying that Wosner has picked his examples well -- the pieces from the two works often resemble each other not just in motivic construction, but in texture, tempo, and general mood. The fact that those by Brahms have a tonal center while Schoenberg's do not can seem almost accidental, which is no doubt what Wosner intends. He frames this novel device with works by Schoenberg and Brahms that each take off from Baroque examples in another important point of connection between the two that Wagner and Strauss never approached. Wosner's performance of the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op. 24, is unusually muscular and detailed, and the twelve-tone Suite for piano, Op. 25, of Schoenberg effectively the entire problem Wosner is examining. This may be a gimmick designed to present Schoenberg for people who hate Schoenberg, but it succeeds at what it sets out to do.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Suite for piano, Op. 25|