BBC Music Magazine

Instrument­al

David Nice is blown away by the pianist’s electrifyi­ng sonatas performanc­es

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Prokofiev

Piano Sonata No. 6 in A, Op. 82; Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat,

Op. 83; Piano Sonata No. 8 in B flat, Op. 84 Steven Osborne (piano) Hyperion CDA68298 74:28 mins From first electrifyi­ng note-punch to last, with so much poetry and poignancy in between, this is a tour de force of pianism highlighti­ng what seems more than ever like the great sonata sequence of the 20th century.

There are so many towering performanc­es of these harrowing works, from Sviatoslav Richter to the latest Russian pianist to record a complete Prokofiev sonatas cycle, Alexander Melnikov (on Harmonia Mundi), but I believe Steven Osborne caps them all: the greatness marked out in his Messiaen is absolutely confirmed in a disc of the decade (if you grant that it was recorded before the 2010s came to a close).

Hyperbole? Well, given space, I could reason further with plenty of detailed chapter and verse as to why. Suffice it to say that for me Osborne’s choices in tempos and tone colour seem infallible. The bitterswee­t-toviolent slow movements of the Sixth and Seventh Sonatas, the opening Andante dolce of the Eighth – the deepest of them all – followed by an ideally limping Minuet and dreaming second subjects all have exactly the right space and articulati­on they need; the careful considerat­ion of how much or little pedal to use, contrastin­g violent bite with resonant lyricism, is the most revelatory feature of all.

Hyperion’s sound never flinches from Osborne’s colossal bass in climaxes. Is it any wonder he dedicates the disc to ‘Bronwen Ackermann, physio extraordin­aire’? Whatever the fallout, he must know that it was worth it: this is legendary stuff. Perceptive notes, too, by Christina Guillaumie­r. PERFORMANC­E ★★★★★

RECORDING ★★★★★

Osborne’s choice in tempos and tone colour seem infallible

Ballades Nos 1-4; Impromptus Nos 1-3; Fantaisie-impromptu in C sharp minor

Charles Richard-hamelin (piano) Analekta AN 2 9145 58:18 mins

Unpreceden­tedly in the history of Warsaw’s great Chopin Piano Competitio­n, the most recent edition (2015) saw North American players making up four of the six prize-winners. Top among these was the Canadian Charles Richardham­elin, placed second and already then clearly a Chopin interprete­r to watch. He confirms that further in cultivated performanc­es here, focusing on the beauty of Chopin’s music while finding deep meaning within it. Sophistica­ted in his approach to the four Ballades, he sets the tone in the G minor work with playing of great introspect­ion, but for all the poetry – even the al, that uniquely Polish soulfulnes­s – he also commands plenty of virtuosity. Seemingly mindful of the literary associatio­ns attached to the Ballades, he brings out their narrative qualities; this is felt particular­ly in the storytelli­ng sense with which he opens the F major piece.

But it is perhaps the approach of the Quebec-born musician to the often-overlooked Impromptus that really marks him out. It takes an outstandin­g pianist to make the most of these, often dismissed in comparison with Chopin’s greater music yet also seen by some as a series of musical landscapes prefigurin­g impression­ism. Paying tribute in their title to Schubert and belonging to the bel canto thread in Chopin, they share with the Nocturnes their A-B-A structure. Even Chopin himself called the G flat major Impromptu an ‘occasional piece’, yet Richardham­elin makes it spellbindi­ng, and to round off the disc he captures the pianistic glitter of the Fantaisiei­mpromptu. An exemplary Chopin recital. John Allison PERFORMANC­E ★★★★★

RECORDING ★★★★

 ??  ?? Benchmark playing: Osborne outdoes all who preceded him
Benchmark playing: Osborne outdoes all who preceded him
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