Before he began the second of his three all-Schubert Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum concerts, pianist Charlie Albright spoke briefly to the multi-tiered audience, most of whom were four to six decades older than he. Late Schubert, he remarked (entirely gratuitously), is associated with old, really old men [strange claim, since Schubert himself never became an old man]. “Here’s a young man’s Schubert.”
Charlie Albright looks younger than his 25 years, but has already won more prizes and acclaim than most pianists even dream about. His resume includes a degree from Harvard in economics and pre-med, and a Master of Music from New England Conservatory. (He was the first classical pianist in their joint degree program). He’s currently in the Artist Diploma program at Juilliard. And concertizing up a storm.
This was the second time I heard Albright, and my first very favorable impressions were reconfirmed at this concert, the second of his three Schubert recitals at Gardner. Albright has the requisite chops of a competition winner, but the beauty, sensitivity, and taste of a mature artist.
Schubert’s expressive miniature marvels, Moments musicaux, D. 780, Op. 94, received a beautiful performance that captured its many ephemeral moods. Albright has had some first-class Schubert company in Boston this year: Paul Lewis played the three last sonatas at Jordan Hall and Christian Zacharias played Moments musicaux at Tanglewood. Yet Albright left as deep an impression as his colleagues. His Schubert was ravishing, imaginative, poetic—full of poignancy and lyricism. It would seem Albright is a born Schubert player, whose taste is simply impeccable.
The program listed Schubert’s Sonata in A Minor, D. 845, but Albright cheerfully announced, “I’m going to play a better one” — D. 959 in A Major, one of Schubert’s magisterial final three. His interpretation sounded spontaneous, but this was also heartfelt, mature playing. Everything had been thought out by a mind brimming with musical intelligence.
Albright is a master of improvisation, and treated the audience to a fanciful three-minute riff on a short Schubertian-sounding theme. I have heard him do this musical stunt before—there are also examples on YouTube. Each time Albright’s musical imagination and spontaneity amaze. But it was the Schubert that really amazed and impressed. Luckily, there will be more of it on November 17th when Albright plays Impromptus, Op. 142 and Sonata in C Minor, D. 958. I wouldn’t miss it.