Steven Osborne

Prokofiev: Piano Sonatas Nos. 6, 7 & 8

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Prokofiev did not call his sixth, seventh, and eighth piano sonatas "War Sonatas," and they do not embody the direct presence of war like many Shostakovich works of the time do. Yet they have an odd quality, implacable yet inwardly rigid and fragile, that defines them as products of their time. They are among the most technically difficult works of the standard piano repertory, and pianist Steven Osborne even dedicates the present album to his physical therapist; the sonatas are perhaps even more difficult interpretively than technically. Compare Osborne's readings with those of Sviatoslav Richter, classics that may be taken as approved by the composer. Although many of the movement timings are close, the flavor is entirely different in each case. Where Richter is restless and uneasy (in accord with Prokofiev's "Allegro inquieto" tempo marking in the first movement of the Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat major, Op. 83), Osborne is consistent, clear, and rather steely. It works, especially in the hard and intricate Piano Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op. 82, and the overall mood is of a rejection of the rapidly deteriorating world situation in favor of an inward world. Osborne is excellent in tracing small details and the web of motivic relationships that become more apparent with each hearing of these works, and his playing throughout has an attractive, resolute consistency. The jumpy Richter may seem preferable, but Osborne is absolutely distinctive and well worth engaging with.

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