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Briefly Noted: Benjamin Hochman's Homage to Schubert

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Homage to Schubert (Schubert, Widmann, Kurtág), B. Hochman

(released on November 12, 2013)
Avie AV2281 | 71'57"
Israeli pianist Benjamin Hochman gave his Washington debut recital at the Phillips Collection last year. His new CD on the Avie label offers a glimpse of that Phillips Collection recital, which I did not hear, with two Schubert sonatas sandwiching contemporary tributes to that composer's music. The two Schubert sonatas -- no. 13 (A major, op. 120, D. 664) and no. 17 (D Major, op. 53, D. 850, "Gasteiner Sonate") -- display a forthright touch and an imaginative response to Schubert's often kaleidoscopic approach, piling up themes and textures, but Hochman does not surpass my favorite Schubert players at the moment, Martin Helmchen (who will be coming to Washington, and playing Schubert, in May) and Paul Lewis (whose Schubert recital at the Library of Congress last spring just missed my Best of the Year list). What makes Hochman stand out is his interest in and devotion to these lesser-known contemporary pieces, an interest he shares with his wife, violinist Jennifer Koh. The disc takes its name from the miniature by Ionarts favorite György Kurtág, drawn from the collection Játékok, a minute of aphoristic chords and fragments typical of the composer's compressed style. In the same vein is Jörg Widmann's Idyll and Abyss: Six Schubert Reminiscences, which receives its first recording here, most movements not much longer than the Kurtág piece. Widmann's references to Schubert are more overt and edged with sarcasm, which may irritate some listeners but not this one. The fourth movement (Scherzando) is extremely whimsical, including a moment where the pianist whistles an echo to a phrase fragment he has just played, which gets a good laugh.

Washington Performing Arts Society will present Benjamin Hochman on the Hayes Piano Series in the coming year (February 1, 2 pm). He offers a similar program juxtaposing old and new -- Brahms's Handel-Variations paired with Oliver Knussen's Variations for Piano, op. 24, and Frederic Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated!, a set of variations on a Chilean political song, which was premiered by Ursula Oppens at the Kennedy Center in 1976.

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