Rachmaninov - Etudes-tableaux
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Cat No: CDA68188
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 27th July 2018
ArtistsSteven Osborne (piano)
1Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 33 - #1 In F Minor: Allegro Non Troppo
2Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 33 - #2 In C: Allegro
3Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 33 - #3 In C Minor: Grave
4Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 33 - #5 In D Minor: Moderato
5Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 33 - #6 In E Flat Minor: Non Allegro: Presto
6Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 33 - #7 In E Flat: Allegro Con Fuoco
7Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 33 - #8 In G Minor: Moderato
8Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 33 - #9 In C Sharp Minor: Grave
9Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39 - #1 In C Minor: Allegro Agitato
10Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39 - #2 In A Minor: Lento Assai
11Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39 - #3 In F Sharp Minor: Allegro Molto
12Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39 - #4 In B Minor: Allegro Assai
13Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39 - #5 In E Flat Minor: Appassionato
14Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39 - #6 In A Minor: Allegro
15Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39 - #7 In C Minor: Lento Lugubre
16Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39 - #8 In D Minor: Allegro Moderato
17Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39 - #9 In D: Allegro Moderato (Tempo Di Marcia)
Now pianist Steven Osborne, whose recordings of everything from Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt to Debussy, Ravel, Messiaen and Tippett are among the highlights of the Hyperion catalogue (and who has already set down a fine disc of the Rachmaninov Préludes), turns his attention to the Études-tableaux. And, as one might expect of an artist with such formidable technical and musical talents, the results are hugely impressive. Osborne immediately hits his stride with a performance of op.33 no.1 which perfectly nails the contrast between the confident, march-like main theme and the questioning, introverted second theme. Then in the shimmering textures of op.33 no.2 Osborne’s deftness of touch brings to mind the best of his Ravel playing. He brings out the bell-like sonorities of nos. 5 and 7 as surely as he copes with the Presto filigree of no.6 in E flat minor, while his command of the grand rhetorical gestures in no.9 (the last of the op.33 set) is never at the expense of the underlying pulse.
These are performances that put their trust in the score, though never slavishly so. Osborne eschews the more overtly impassioned volatility of, say, Rustem Hayroudinoff (on Chandos), let alone the wilful tempo distortions of Lugansky, preferring a more considered and controlled traversal of these ‘Study-Pictures’. This clear-headed approach pays particular dividends in the op.39 set, where the shifting textures and more adventurous, often Scriabinesque harmonic language are superbly delineated by Osborne. The almost orchestral textures of no.1 in C minor are handled with as much dexterity as the limpid textures of no.2 in A minor, and if the poised Allegro assai of the F sharp minor no.3 feels a shade detached, no such charge could be made for the richly-toned Appassionato of no.5 in E flat minor.
In the best sense, Osborne lets the music ‘speak for itself’; the predominance of minor keys in the op.39 set has never felt less ‘samey’, the contrasts of mood, tempo and texture emerging in a totally unforced manner. And in the final four Études, where Rachmaninov makes some of the most exacting demands on the pianist, Osborne is at the peak of his game. It’s almost as if, by withstanding the temptation to indulge in unmarked tempo fluctuations, he is demonstrating an expressive steeliness and resilience that becomes a hallmark of these readings. The range of touch and dynamic gradation he brings to the lengthy C minor Lento lugubre of no.7 is quite enough, for instance, to keep the listener fully engaged without any histrionic excesses. As for the final two works, in D minor and major respectively, there’s a feeling of cumulative tension and release that is enhanced by Osborne’s patient approach, and that one simply doesn’t get when individual Études-tableaux are excerpted from the cycle.
For those who value a more level-headed approach to Rachmaninov’s music, this compelling disc will be deeply rewarding, with pianisim of astonishing command and sensitivity, and a recording of commendable clarity, focus and warmth. Add to that Geoffrey Norris’s authoritative booklet notes and marvellous cover artwork from one of Nicholas Roerich’s evocatively stylised paintings (Mystery Play in Medieval Novgorod) and you have another impressive addition to Steven Osborne’s ever-expanding Hyperion discography. Marvellous!
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