Steven Osborne

Date: 4 February 2019 at 7.30 pm

Schubert Piano Sonata in B flat D. 960

Prokofiev – Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat Op 83

Prokofiev – Piano Sonata No. 6 in A Op 82

“There was barely a fidget or a cough. Nothing disturbed the concentration. The whole experience was a kind of enchantment.” These words, lifted from a review of one of Osborne’s recitals in The Guardian of 5 June 2016, seemed to me to sum up his Inverness concert perfectly.

Steven opened the recital by commenting on the background to the Schubert B flat sonata and on various aspects of it, including a tiny motif lower down in the register that was “so incongruous that the famous pianist Alfred Brendel refused to play it”. Steven then gave the most intense performance of the sonata that I have ever heard, starting with a hushed hymn-like melody, moving through the two-sided character of the second movement, into the delicate third and ending up with the huge fourth movement. The whole sonata was a tour de force.
The second half comprised 2 of the 3 Prokofiev War sonatas which, to my mind, varied from the frantic to the sublime. They were so demanding (on the audience, as well as the performer) that Steven decided to intersperse them with a short, quiet piece, Extensions 3 by Morton Feldman. This was an experimental work, particularly in regard to dynamics, where, Steven said that Feldman had indicated that it was to be played “as quietly as possible”. It comprised a number of individual “moments” with no progression between them and no development from the past; the composer’s message being to “live in the moment”.
After several curtain calls, Steven changed the mood completely with a jazz number – Victor Young’s “My foolish heart”, with the melody being hidden behind a series of gorgeous, rich chords. I asked him later whether this was the original piece and he said that it was “an improvisation on an improvisation of an arrangement”.
Chatting to him afterwards, he was quite happy to consider returning, if his schedule permitted. Let’s hope it does.


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