Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Guest Reviewer, Peter Reed

Scottish pianist Steven Osborne has spent the lockdown months in Edinburgh, and this Schubert lunchtime programme from Glasgow was his first live recital in a while, albeit played to an empty venue, as in Wigmore Hall’s series last month, but not filmed. For all the pared-down quality of these live-but-virtual events, Osborne’s hyper-communicative and spontaneous intensity came across strongly, and his genius in establishing foreground and background gave Schubert’s F-minor Impromptu (D935/1) an epic, ballade-like stature, urged on by his full recourse to the City Halls’ Steinway’s firepower.

There was also a marked sense of unease and fractured momentum that fed into the B-flat Piano Sonata (D960) in a performance that made much of the work’s polarised extremes from taut ambiguity in the first movement to the Finale’s discursive ambivalence that seemed both to acknowledge and ignore any anxious undertows. Osborne’s acute sensitivity to matters of dialogue and form made complete sense of the opening movement’s bass trills, at first a stand-alone element, a sort of elephant in the room, that goes on to add another dimension to the big structural moments – an omniscient, slightly predatory organising force that Osborne played with great perceptiveness, to which you could add the extraordinary destabilising effect he brought to the bridge passage back to the exposition repeat. Osborne really knows how to animate and characterise this music. He then went on to cast a haze of sombre colour over the tension between rhythm and melody that defines the slow movement, balancing the music’s retreat and assertiveness in playing of astonishing delicacy that turned to the sun in the weightless Scherzo.

His encore – not, of course, on the back of thunderous applause – turned to the New World in an arrangement of George Gershwin’s I loves you, Porgy.