Sergey Prokofiev's output for violin and piano was quite small, and it would have been limited to the Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor had he not also arranged his Five Songs Without Words and the Flute Sonata in D major, the latter at the request of David Oistrakh. One experiences a degree of discomfort in the Violin Sonata No. 1, which is one of Prokofiev's more unsettling pieces, due in part to its sinister tone and harsh dissonances, but also to its conflicting expressions.
Steven Osborne continues his enthralling performances of Messiaen's piano works, with Martin Roscoe joining him for the two-piano Visions de l'Amen. The two of them are flawlessly matched in their strength, control, and range of expression, even though for much of the work the two piano parts are largely independent. They move together from twinkling, distant starlight passages to powerful, brilliant solar flare-like passages. Osborne and Roscoe, although painting large pictures in the seven movements, demand that attention be paid to the details in the music.
Anticipating the developments of his maturity, Franz Liszt's Harmonies poétiques et religieuses is an important transitional piece, if not especially coherent or profound. Liszt's sentimentality and chronic showmanship prevent this set of pious reveries from achieving the deepest spiritual dimensions. But there are many reflective moments in this work that indicate a growing seriousness and even presage the dark emotions and austerity of his final period. While the Invocation, Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, and the Cantique d'amour are predictably ecstatic in their climaxes, each contains sustained passages of calm introspection.
Steven Osborne has already made a name for himself in French music with a disc of Alkan and a profoundly moving performance of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards. Here he reaches between those two to tackle one of the pinnacles of the piano repertoire—Debussy’s two books of Préludes. These works have been central to Steven’s repertoire for many years and he brings them to the studio after many public performances and much reflection. He has worked from the most up-to-date Urtext edition which clarifies Debussy’s thought in many places, particularly with regard to tempo relationships within La cathédrale engloutie and a missing bar in Les tierces alternées. In a crowded field Osborne need fear no comparisons: the pianism is exquisite and the interpretations are of a rare depth and subtlety—a recording to rival the very best!
Steven Osborne has become one of the most valuable pianists recording today. His recent complete Rachmaninov Preludes release was critically acclaimed as the greatest modern version since Ashkenazy. Now he turns to further cornerstones of the Russian repertoire in this recording of Musorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition (a work which has been in Osborne’s concert repertoire for many years), and two sets of Prokofiev’s miniatures.