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Franz Schubert – Impromptus, Piano pieces & Variations – Steven Osborne (2015) [FLAC 24-96]

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Franz Schubert – Impromptus, Piano pieces & Variations – Steven Osborne (2015)
FLAC (tracks) 24-bit/96 kHz | Time – 01:15:56 minutes | 1,09 GB | Genre: Classical
Studio Master, Official Digital Download – Source: hyperion-records | Digital Booklet | © Hyperion Records
Recorded: December 2014, Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, United Kingdom

Steven Osborne shines in lyrical new performances of seven of Schubert’s greatest late works for piano, plus the extended Hüttenbrenner Variations of 1817.

Although he partnered Paul Lewis on a disc of Schubert’s duets on Hyperion (12/10), it’s taken some time for Steven Osborne to tackle any of the composer’s solo works for the label. And he steers clear of the sonatas, opting instead for the second set of Impromptus, the three posthumous Klavierstücke and the rarely heard Variations on a Theme by Anselm Hüttenbrenner.

Osborne immediately presents himself as a Schubertian of the utmost seriousness and integrity, and throughout the disc—beautifully recorded at the Wyastone Estate’s Concert Hall—offers finely gauged and beautifully regulated playing. His is a patient, ostensibly non-interventionist approach, in which the poetry of Schubert’s music is allowed to speak for itself. The benefits are immediately apparent in the F minor Impromptu. Its opening phrase is stern and unflinching, but the right-hand filigree from 2’06” comes across as especially delicate as a result, the transition at 2’34” meltingly realised and the subsequent hand-crossing episode exquisite in its quiet concentration.

Similar virtues make for a terrific performance of the second piece—touchingly chaste, leavened by the subtlest rubato and dynamic variation. But do the theme and variations of No 3 feel a little short on levity in comparison? Var 4’s left-hand octaves come across rather brusque to me, even if the delicacy of Var 5’s triplets is seductive. Similarly, No 4’s rhythms, though impeccably pointed, lack the extra paprika that Lewis himself—generally a great deal keener to spice things up throughout all four pieces on his Harmonia Mundi recording—brings to his quirkier rendition. Elsewhere, I find it difficult not to miss the poetry of a Pires or, looking further back, a Kempff.

It’s more of the same in the Klavierstücke. The concentration of No 1 (without the cut bars, incidentally, that are restored in Pires’s performance) and the pinpoint touch of No 3 are rewarding. But although Osborne’s discipline in No 2—especially in its haunting central A flat minor episode—shouldn’t be taken for granted, I again missed the Portuguese pianist’s sense of poetry. Osborne’s take on the Hüttenbrenner Variations is impressively, imposingly austere, too, closing a disc with a great deal to admire, and which whets the appetite for more from this pianist. It’s a crowded field, though, and there’s no shortage of options elsewhere for those who like their Schubert with a little more warmth. –Hugo Shirley, Gramophone

Tracklist:

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Four Impromptus D935 Op 142
1. No 1 in F minor: Allegro moderato[11’03]
2. No 2 in A flat major: Allegretto[8’05]
3. No 3 in B flat major: Andante[10’42]
4. No 4 in F minor: Allegro scherzando[6’39]

Three piano pieces D946
5. No 1 in E flat minor: Allegro assai[8’41]
6. No 2 in E flat major: Allegretto[11’27]
7. No 3 in C major: Allegro[4’59]
8. Variations on a theme by Anselm Hüttenbrenner D576[14’20]

Personnel:
Steven Osborne, piano

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