Steven Osborne

Rachmaninov: Études-tableaux

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The Scots pianist Steven Osborne, with this release of Rachmaninov's two sets of Etudes-tableaux, is well into his third dozen of recordings for the Hyperion label. Yet his new releases routinely hit the charts, and, more important, his prolific production doesn't stop him from lavishing well-considered detail on the music he plays. The hyphenated title of the Etudes-tableaux ("study-scenes") points to their subtlety: they are pictorial, although the composer revealed only a few of the subjects (and those only later on), but they spin out their images quite rigorously from a single cell or technique announced early on. They are among the more compact pieces of a notoriously broad-gestured composer. For the more virtuosic pieces (sample the opening work of the Op. 39 set, the Etude in C minor, Op. 39, No. 1), you could find more explosively Russian readings. But you may not find readings where the detail and the development of the music is so closely considered. If Osborne has a specialty it is the music of the Impressionists, this is perhaps an Impressionist Rachmaninov, with careful shades and images. But Osborne loses none of the music's energy, and nothing is indistinct. As a recording that realizes the distinctive aims of its performer, this is a must-have Rachmaninov album.

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