Steven Osborne

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Op. 109 in E major, Op. 110 in A flat major, Op. 111 in C minor

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There are plenty of recordings of Beethoven's last three piano sonatas, each as unheard-of in structure and expression as the Ninth Symphony, and recording them seems to be something of a rite of passage for pianists. Here, Steven Osborne gives a real sense of wrestling with the material, which is all to the good. Hyperion's materials do not specify the piano used, but it's capable of quite harsh sounds; the fortepiano for which Beethoven wrote these pieces was an expressive, rather violent instrument. Your reactions to the uses Osborne makes of this sound may vary according to personal preference, herewith, is one reaction: Osborne crafts a really epoch-making version of the Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109, and it's, without question, worth the price of the album. He takes quick tempos and keeps the whole sonata driving forward to where the variations in the finale can absorb the percussive elements; the culmination in the final variations has extraordinary power. Osborne has plenty of variation in his quiver of tones and textures, and much of the Piano Sonata No. 31 in A major, Op. 110, is quite quiet. In the final fugue he maintains a balanced approach, reserving the power for the entrances in the bass voice (sample at about 5:00); it's unclear why these notes should be played quite so hard. In the Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, Osborne again leaves himself a lot of room in the variation finale, and again builds up to a strong conclusion. Hyperion delivers excellent sound from the Perth Concert Hall in Osborne's native Scotland. Not the last word on these sonatas, indeed there can hardly be one, but well worth hearing.

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