Steven Osborne, piano
February 7 2019
Review: William Ruff
Pianist Steven Osborne in music of intense stillness and supercharged energy
Pianist Steven Osborne is a musician whose art suspends time. Not ‘just’ a multi-award-winning recording artist, he’s also a concert performer who grabs your attention from the outset and holds it tight till he’s played the final note.
He started with one of the most revered of Schubert’s piano works, the Sonata in B flat, written only months before the composer died at the tragically early age of 31. Steven’s introductory comments described it as the most spontaneous, generous, relaxed and complex of his final sonatas – all adjectives which could describe his performance of a piece which achieves a delicate balance between emotional tension and sublime poetic contemplation.
There was something indefinable in his playing of the opening bars – but you always know when an audience is hooked and drawn in to a performance, especially when all traces of February coughs disappear. The long first movement unfolded quietly, solemnly, wonderfully. The second was a miracle of intense, expressive stillness. The scherzo then came as a mercurial interlude before the Hungarian-tinged dance tune of the finale, a mixture (in Osborne’s hands) of robustness, lyrical tenderness and teasing charm.
After the interval came Debussy’s Prelude ‘Footsteps in the Snow’ in which the pianist is instructed to produce sound suggesting ‘the depths of a sad and icy landscape’. Whatever that means, Steven Osborne again conjured up atmosphere with the most economical of means: desolate certainly, but never less than beautiful.
This ushered in Prokofiev’s 8th Piano Sonata, one of the ‘War Sonatas’, the composer’s chronicle that reflects not just the horrors of the German invasion but also the insecurity of life in Stalin’s Russia. The work is an exhilarating mixture of restless nervous energy, dreamlike nostalgia and mysterious ambiguity. Steven Osborne made light of its almost superhuman demands on both memory and technique, especially the supercharged finale, taken at a dangerously fast pace but brilliantly articulated from first note to last.
And he still had breath remaining to play Victor Young’s My Foolish Heart as an encore.
Steven Osborne (piano) in the Djanogly Recital Hall at Nottingham University’s Lakeside Arts Centre