Steven Osborne – Beethoven [Moonlight, Pathétique and Waldstein Sonatas]

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Piano Sonata in C sharp minor, Op.27/2 (Moonlight)
Piano Sonata in C minor, Op.13 (Pathétique)
Piano Sonata in G, Op.79
Piano Sonata in C, Op.53 (Waldstein)

Steven Osborne (piano)

Recorded 13-15 September 2008 in Henry Wood Hall, London

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: May 2010
Duration: 71 minutes


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Steven Osborne here enters into the fray by recording three of Beethoven’s most popular piano sonatas, music documented so many times previously. Yet, it is not about competition but what a particular artist has to reveal about such ubiquitous pieces.

In the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, Osborne casts a spell from the very opening, suggesting improvisation yet also a searching harmonic rigour and beguiling the ear with subtle colour and touch. The brief Allegretto that follows is perky and the finale suitably tempestuous but always articulate and variegated as well as being alive to punctuation. A poetic and dramatic account. Osborne stresses the lyrical side of the ‘Pathétique’ Sonata, finding heart and demonstrativeness in the slow introduction and then not pushing the Allegro too hard yet without compromising its vigour. The Adagio cantabile is wonderfully unaffected, straight from the heart to the heart, and the finale has shape and truculence.

If, from Osborne, the first movement of the G major Sonata could be said to be ‘under’ the Presto marking, there is a compensatory delightfully bouncy quality in evidence, the pianist with time on his side to quip with the listener. This brief little Sonata (a gem) as a whole (the finale here of attractive rude health) bridges us to the ‘Waldstein’ Sonata, given with impetus and lyric flexibility, Osborne never one to force or bang, yet Beethoven’s fire is fully present, the pianist playing the long game to reach properly transcendental climaxes. The slow movement is of spiritual contemplation and the finale unfolds regally with egalitarian spirit and profound reflection until the waters break and the coda acts as a joyous release.

These are very impressive performances on their own terms – fresh, new-minted, perceptive, individual – that have been realistically recorded and are supplemented by Misha Donat’s exhaustive booklet note. What’s more, Steven Osborne’s compelling accounts are competitive as well.

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