Magazine article Gramophone

Instrumental: Steven Osborne's Pianism Beats off a Strong Line-Up, Even with Mussorgsky's Famously 'Unpianistic' Work

Magazine article Gramophone

Instrumental: Steven Osborne's Pianism Beats off a Strong Line-Up, Even with Mussorgsky's Famously 'Unpianistic' Work

Article excerpt

WINNER

Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition Prokofiev Visions fugitives. Sarcasms

This is Steven Osborne's first Instrumental Award, though his second Gramophone Award, following on from his 2009 Britten concerto disc. He has been a consistent presence in the shortlists with an array of discs that are as striking for their eclecticism as for the sheer quality of his pianism. And this year he has beaten off a particularly strong line-up with a disc built around a famously unpianistic work--making his achievement all the more impressive.

This may sound self-evident, but Osborne never takes a work into the studio until he truly has something to say about it--and that's markedly the case here. Not for him the battering, barnstorming thuggery with which some have played up Pictures' rebarbative elements. Instead, this is all about contrast--the 'Catacombae' are imbued with a sense of malevolence, of something unknown lurking round the corner, but Osborne also reveals an aching, very human, sadness about this dank, lonely place, while the opening of 'Con mortuis' is so quiet as to having you holding your breath. After such restraint, the dramatic impact of 'Baba Yaga' is all the more terrifying and Osborne lets rip but never bashes the instrument into submission.

The coupling of two sets of youthful Prokofiev pieces is inspired--and pure Osborne in its quiet subversiveness. His Sarcasms don't lack bite any more than 'Baba Yaga' does, but they're also playful, never aggressive. Osborne's ability to characterise vividly on a Lilliputian scale is brought even more to the fore in the Visions fugitives by turns sardonic, delicate, witty, tender, aggressive and mournful--each presented with a level of detail and subtlety that absorbs you into their fleeting sound worlds. …

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