STEVEN OSBORNE PIANO RECITAL BARBER INSTITUTE

STEVEN OSBORNE BARBER INSTITUTE, BIRMINGHAM UNIVERSITY *****

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY HEARS STEVEN OSBORNE DELIVER TWO VERY DIFFERENT PIANO SONATAS SHARING THE SAME KEY


One of the many highlights of Steven Osborne's enthralling recital was his cunning juxtaposition of two major piano sonatas both in the same key, and revealing how two totally different soundworlds can emanate from the same tonality, B-flat major.
Prokofiev's wartime Seventh Sonata has the key as a vehicle for crisp, sardonic clamour, with a tortured heart at its core. An uneasy peace descends in the central movement before a finale of jagged impetus, B-flat swirling around in an increasingly frenetic sacrificial dance (what imagination was tumbling out of the composer here!) towards a terrifying conclusion which Osborne's shoulder-power encompassed heroically. There was no distracting acknowledgement of the pianist's technical virtuosity in this performance, just sheer immersion in his musicianly response.
As there was in an even greater B-flat Sonata, that penned by Schubert at the very end of his life. Perhaps the imperious B-flat of Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata was a subconscious inspiration, but Schubert's intention here was to bathe in the blessed serenity of which the key is capable..
Osborne floated all its subtle detail equitably between the hands, at the same time constantly alert to the music's sense of harmonic direction. He also conveyed the undercurrent of unease which threatens the otherworldly balm of this precious work, even in the tinkling little scherzo which tries its very best to be escapist.
Poulenc's Trois Novelettes made a deft beginning, Osborne drawing a gorgeously throaty left-hand tone in the Third, followed by beautiful tone-painting in Debussy's second set of Images. And Debussy provided the encore to which, for once, I didn't object: his austere, strangely soothing Canope.
Christopher Morley

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