A failed Hammerklavier but the other sonatas do impress



Beethoven Piano Sonatas
Steven Osborne


A failed Hammerklavier but the other sonatas do impress

The CD opens, as an error of judgment in my opinion, with the Hammerklavier. Osborne will soon bring some nice interpretations to the other two sonatas, but this monumental work is beyond his grasp, as other well-known pianists’ too. His fast tempo does not help his cause at all and the movement falls into the trap of being a mere showcase. Whilst his tone is nice, he gives neither himself nor the audience time to appreciate it, as he hurries from phrase to the next idea. No depth and rushed. The second movement also fails to impress as Osborne cannot really grasp the variety of moods other than perfection in virtuosity. The third, possibly most difficult movement to bring out, is better than the others. Here, Osborne convinces that he is aware of the musical needs of the piece and he performs them accordingly. In my opinion, he fails to bring up the dramatic necessities and the gravitas required. Gilels’ is not a comparison here, definitely a class of his own, but enough to make the point. Had Osborne followed the depth of the music from the outset, he might have succeeded but he is already lost in the notes in the earlier movements. Osborne does intend to make up for lost time in the last movement. Look how cleverly he seems to start the movement but just as the fugue kicks off Osborne gets lost in the speed, virtuosity and hassle. It is all a pity but thankfully the remaining sonatas are better… It is difficult to bring a new dimension to Beethoven’s piano sonatas, but that is exactly what Osborne does on the composers’ Op. 101. The first movement is played in a more meditated, introvert manner, one such as only the likes oF richter or Gilels would have preferred. Then comes the surprise, the second movement, almost in a Schumannian spirit of Eusebius vs. Florestan, in extrovert fashion, totally a different world then the first movement. These clash of ideas cause Osborne to stumble on the third movement; his interpretation lacks colour and creativity, as if such a bridge is not what he feels comfortable with. Indeed, just as the trills end the third movement and connect us to the last, he returns to himself. The heroics of Beethoven roar, the harmonic changes are perfectly emphasised and the fugal section expands into dissonances in masculine fashion. Osborne and Op. 101 surely match one another… The last sonata on the disc is the Op. 90 where Osborne is successful to capture the darkness of the first movement, but gives in too much forte unnecessarily when it comes to the violent passages. There his beauty of tone slips. Once again, we see Osborne willing to catch a strong duality in this composer, where the last movement is claimed with a classical style and a gentle tone throughout that is utterly at odds with the conception of the preceding movement…

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