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Track(s) taken from CDA67461/2

Piano Sonata No 3

1972/3; first performed by Paul Crossley

Steven Osborne (piano)
Recording details: July 2006
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: November 2007
Total duration: 24 minutes 44 seconds

Cover artwork: Symphony (1915) by Michail Ivanovich Menkov (1885-1926)
Art Museum, Samara, Russia / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Allegro  [5'13]
Lento  [14'19]
Allegro energico  [5'12]


'Osborne's outstanding recording of the Piano Concerto … it's a lyrical piece with magical moments' (The Mail on Sunday)

'The mighty Concerto, starkly and confidently poised between Tippett's still richly potent earlier style and the brave new possibilities explored in its visionary central movement … the eloquence and fantasy of what is undoubtedly one of the major works of the 1950s is superbly projected in a performance which need fear no comparison with the best earlier recordings … as for the sonatas, Steven Osborne is at least the equal of Paul Crossley in interpretative empathy, and has the advantage of superlative modern recording. There's a further advantage: perceptive and lucid booklet-notes by Ian Kemp, Tippett's friend and biographer' (Gramophone)

'This splendid double album … performances that impressively set new standards in these often challenging works … Steven Osborne seems to have the measure of them all. His account of the Concerto, ably supported by Martyn Brabbins's command of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, has all the ecstatic power that Ogdon brought to the first movement, and a like rhythmic ebullience in the finale, but negotiates the contrapuntal thickets of the slow movement with greater delicacy and feeling. He's helped by Hyperion's detailed recording … the Fourth is by far the longest of the sonatas and has previously been the hardest to assimilate. Even so, Osborne's wonderfully elegant unwinding of the contrapuntal lines in the first movement, and his powerful, deeply elegiac reading of the finale, illuminate this fascinating work … more clearly than any version I've previously encountered. This is a very important release' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Released just in time to mark the 10th anniversary of Michael Tippett's death comes this magnificent set of the composer's complete music for piano played by the musician who must surely be regarded as one of his most resourceful interpreters, Steven Osborne. He has just the range of touch to bring out the tonal richness of the Piano Concerto (superbly partnered by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins), the muscularity of the Beethovenian elements in the First Piano Sonata and the almost Messiaenic sense of fantasy required for the Fourth' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Steven Osborne is a young pianist who seems completely at home in this wide-ranging and challenging music … the best case for the music I’ve ever heard' (American Record Guide)

'Osborne's readings on this new recording from Hyperion undoubtedly triumph … Osborne wins through on grounds of spontaneity and bitterness … Hyperion's new release, delightfully crisp and immediate, brings together all of Tippett's piano music under one roof, a feat not hitherto attempted. It succeeds in honouring the music's volatility while salvaging from it the composer's temperate if idiosyncratic sense of Song. Osborne's reflections complement full and illuminating booklet notes by Ian Kemp, who first brought Tippett's piano msuic to the pianist's attention while studying at Manchester University. This is a set that certainly deserves our warmest embrace' (International Record Review)

'Steven Osborne's accounts of the four Tippett sonatas in recitals at the Wigmore Hall were one of the highlights of the Tippett centenary celebrations in 2005, and his recordings of them, together with equally exceptional accounts of the Piano Concerto and the early Fantasia on a theme of Handel have been well worth waiting for … Osborne is superb at delineating the characters of the four sonatas and underlining how, in their very different ways, they relate to the piano tradition … under his fingers the Second Sonata emerges as a gritty and uncompromising masterpiece … his account of the Piano Concerto with Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish Symphony is similarly charged' (The Guardian)

'The Scottish pianist demonstrates the driving energy behind Tippett's solo piano music. The four sonatas dance nimbly over the keys … nothing beats the hungry Vivace of the Piano Concerto, however, for sheer palpitating excitement' (The Times)

'This double album is a monumental achievement. Tippett's writing for piano is as demanding as it is cliché-resistant. No body of music for the instrument since Messiaen's is as distinctive as his and it is wonderful to have the oeuvre together on disc. The concerto is realised with a precision and vigour, both soloistic and orchestral, that leave one marvelling anew at its inventiveness. The account of the brief, early, concerted Fantasia on a theme of Handel makes me revise my opinion of the work sharply upwards. In Osborne's account of the four sonatas, each a big statement, radiance and virtuosity go hand in hand' (The Sunday Times)

'This double-disc set from Hyperion is a monumental justifcation for his efforts. In all four sonatas, Osborne reveals a sense of composure that reflects his total absorption in the music … the most exciting revelations are his illuminating accounts of the Third and Fourth Sonatas. Osborne hits the button on all levels. In terms of stature, he pours out Tippett's edifices with radiant vision. But within all that there is a galaxy of detail that hits you with intoxicating freshness and dynamism … these are award-winning performances' (The Scotsman)

'I applaud Steven Osborne for his dedication to Tippett's music. He has worked long and hard on it and found his own way; furthermore, he had the opportunity to include the sonatas in recitals before recording them … Steven Osborne brings deep commitment to the music, making it alive, vivid, and communicative through musical and technical virtues of the highest order … he really is inside Tippett's continually fascinating output' (Fanfare, USA)

'Osborne is at the top of his game in his unmistakable mix of liberated pianism and steel-tempered discipline … his playing, never better, is stamped with an immaculate sense of organisation and structure, married to a freewheeling joy at grappling with music he is committed to' (The Herald)

'I cannot imagine a finer recording of the emotionally restrained and stucturally tight Tippett Piano Concerto than from Steven Osborne … any older recording of this very important British piano concerto is safely ousted from the market. Osborne also does justice to Tippett's sontatas here' (Pianist)

'The English composer Michael Tippett left an idiosyncratic body of work shaped by keen intelligence and humanitarian spirit. But given the unorthodox demands and occasional technical shortcomings of his writing, his music has been best served by performers who approach it with sympathy and absolute commitment. The latest to do so is the Scottish pianist Steven Osborne, whose new collection of Tippett’s piano music is a revelatory achievement. The four sonatas span Tippett’s career, providing a concentrated overview of his restless style. The First, completed in 1938 and revised in 1942, responds to Europe’s darkening political climate with virtuoso fireworks and boisterous folk melodies. The Second Sonata, from 1962, shares the brittle, jagged sound Tippett fashioned for his second opera, King Priam, yet passages of gracious lyricism pop up throughout the single-movement span. Tippett’s musical language had become still more abrasive by the time he wrote the Third Sonata in 1973, but the icy stillness of the Lento movement and the explosive vitality of the finale speak clearly and directly. The Fourth, finished in 1984, is stuffed with enough material for a dozen pieces, including a quirky fugue, a gamboling fourth movement and a ghostly finale. Somehow Mr. Osborne makes it all stick. The Piano Concerto, from 1955, occupies the ravishing sound world Tippett created in his first opera, The Midsummer Marriage. The concerto is awkward but endearing, and Mr. Osborne is a compelling soloist. The conductor, Martyn Brabbins, draws a lively performance from the BBC Scottish players here and in the ostentatious Fantasia on a theme of Handel' (The New York Times)
As with Tippett’s second sonata, the third, completed in 1973, reflects something of his changes of style during the 1960s and early ’70s, when he developed a more radical approach to formal design and a more abrasive harmonic language sometimes bordering on atonality. The new sonata does not quote from its immediate predecessors—his third opera The Knot Garden and his massive Symphony No 3—but its temper is an obvious by-product of them, an exhilarating energy sometimes concealing barely suppressed rage. This was not what he expected the sonata to be like. It did not become a kind of undemanding holiday task: it stood firmly in line with its predecessors and its immediate successor, his fourth opera The Ice Break. But it did become a pre-echo of his multi-movement yet classically shaped later instrumental works. Thus there is a sonata allegro, a set of variations and a toccata finale, all played without a break.

As well as listening to music Tippett liked seeing it being performed. The best evidence for this is the present sonata. The initial idea of the two hands playing independently of each other at the extreme ends of the piano, clambering about like overgrown spiders, gradually closing the gap and meeting in the middle, is an almost visual one. It results in a musical argument dominated by the various ways extremely unconventional textures contract and fan out again. This is clear at the outset and shortly afterwards, when a silence punctuates the process. The silence is also the point at which a ‘second subject’ group emerges, demonstrating that for all its radical surface the music is built on traditional lines. The exposition concludes, after another silence, with an alert codetta motive, thus preventing the second subject from languishing in its own warmth. As in the classical model the exposition is repeated, now varied and converted into the first section of the development. So the model is a source of invention, not a restraint.

In the second movement, by contrast with the first, the two hands combine—to create the ‘theme’, which is a sequence of chords. In their simplest form these would resemble the chords in the ‘slow finale’ of the second sonata but here, even in their initial presentation, they are spread out and elaborated. The first variation emphasizes the chords, the second the elaborations, the third a singing line and the fourth dissolves in a haze of trills, leaving a dreamy calm to be shattered dramatically, brutally, by the torrent of relentless activity marking the beginning and indeed all of the finale, which restores the gaunt two-part writing of the first movement. It is easy to describe this astonishing inspiration: a first section (ending with repetitions on two adjacent notes), a second section which is the first backwards, the first again, eventually wrenched away from its circular course into a headlong conclusion. Its origins might perhaps be found in the finale of Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ Sonata or in the jazz of a pianist like Art Tatum, but none of this accounts for a movement that is both wildly exhilarating and, as it were, held behind bars.

from notes by Ian Kemp © 2007

Comme la précédente, cette sonate achevée en 1973 reflète quelque chose des changements stylistiques survenus dans les années 1960 et au début des années 1970, lorsque Tippett développa une approche formelle plus radicale et un langage harmonique plus abrasif, frôlant parfois l’atonalité. Cette nouvelle sonate ne cite pas ses devanciers immédiats (The Knot Garden, le troisième opéra de Tippett, et la massive Symphonie no 3), mais son tempérament en est un dérivé manifeste, une énergie exaltante masquant parfois une rage à peine contenue. Elle ne ressembla pas à ce que Tippett en attendait et n’eut vraiment rien d’un simple devoir de vacances: elle s’inscrivit fermement dans la lignée des œuvres qui lui furent immédiatement antérieures et de The Ice Break, le quatrième opéra de Tippett, composé juste après. En revanche, elle donna un véritable avant-goût des pièces instrumentales en plusieurs mouvements, mais de facture classique. On y retrouve donc un allegro de sonate, une série de variations et un final de toccata, le tout joué sans interruption.

Tippett aimait tout autant écouter la musique que la voir interpréter, comme l’illustre fort bien la présente sonate. L’idée initiale en est presque visuelle: les deux mains jouent indépendamment l’une de l’autre aux deux bouts du clavier, se hissant telles des araignées surdimensionnées pour refermer peu à peu l’espace qui les sépare et se rejoindre au milieu. D’où un argument musical dominé par les différentes façons dont les textures, anticonformistes au possible, se contractent et se redéploient—ce qui est flagrant au début et encore après, quand un silence vient ponctuer le processus. Ce silence est aussi l’endroit où émerge un groupe de «deuxième sujet», preuve que, malgré toute son apparente radicalité, cette musique est bâtie selon des lignes traditionnelles. L’exposition s’achève, après un nouveau silence, sur un alerte motif de codetta, empêchant ainsi le deuxième sujet de languir dans sa propre flamme. Comme dans le modèle classique, l’exposition est répétée, mais elle est cette fois variée et transformée en première section de développement. Le modèle est donc une source d’invention, non un frein.

Dans le deuxième mouvement, et par contraste avec ce qui se passe dans le premier, les deux mains se combinent pour créer le «thème», une séquence d’accords étendus et élaborés, même lors de la première présentation, mais qui, pris sous leur forme la plus simple, auraient ressemblé aux accords du «finale lent» de la deuxième sonate. La première variation met l’accent sur les accords, la deuxième sur les élaborations, et la troisième sur une ligne chantante; quant à la quatrième, elle se dissout en une brume de trilles, laissant un calme langoureux être dramatiquement, brutalement fracassé par le torrent d’activité débordante qui marque le début et, en réalité, l’ensemble du finale, lequel rétablit l’austère écriture à deux parties du premier mouvement. Cette stupéfiante inspiration se décrit sans peine: une première section (qu’achèvent des répétitions sur deux notes voisines), une deuxième section qui est la première à l’envers puis, de nouveau, la première section, que l’on arrache finalement à son cours circulaire pour la précipiter tête la première dans la conclusion. Ses origines se trouvent peut-être dans le finale de la sonate «Marche funèbre» de Chopin ou dans le jazz d’un pianiste comme Art Tatum, même si aucun des deux ne peut expliquer un mouvement tout à la fois frénétiquement exaltant et, pour ainsi dire, maintenu sous les verrous.

extrait des notes rédigées par Ian Kemp © 2007
Français: Hypérion

Wie Tippetts zweite Sonate reflektiert auch die dritte, die 1973 vollendet wurde, seine Stilwechsel in den 1960er und frühen 1970er Jahren, als er einen radikaleren Ansatz zur formalen Anlage und eine schroffere Harmoniesprache entwickelte, die manchmal fast an Atonalität grenzte. Die neue Sonate zitiert nicht aus den ihr unmittelbaren vorangehenden Werken, seiner dritten Oper The Knot Garden („Der Irrgarten“) und seiner kolossalen Symphonie Nr. 3, aber ihr Temperament ist ein eindeutiges Nebenprodukt aus ihnen—eine aufregende Energie, die manchmal kaum unterdrückte Wut verbirgt. Er hatte nicht erwartet, dass die Sonate so sein würde. Sie war keine anspruchslose Ferienaufgabe, sondern behauptet fest ihren Platz zwischen ihren Vorgängern und der unmittelbar folgenden vierten Oper The Ice Break. Aber sie sollte ein Vorecho seiner mehrsätzigen, klassisch angelegten späteren Instrumentalwerke sein. Daher finden sich hier ein Sonatenallegro, eine Folge von Variationen und ein Toccata-Finale, die ohne Unterbrechung gespielt werden.

Tippett hörte nicht nur gerne Musik, sondern sah sie auch gerne gespielt. Der beste Beleg dafür ist diese Sonate. Die anfängliche Idee der beiden Hände, die unabhängig voneinander an den extremen Enden der Klaviatur spielen, wie riesige Spinnen über die Tasten klettern und allmählich die Lücke schließen um sich in der Mitte zu treffen, ist sehr visuell. Sie resultiert in einer musikalischen Erörterung, die von den verschiedenen Arten wie unkonventionelle Strukturen sich kontrahieren und wieder ausbreiten, dominiert wird. Dies ist von Anfang an klar, und später, wenn Stille den Prozess unterbricht. Diese Stille ist auch der Punkt, an dem eine „zweite Themengruppe“ erscheint, was demonstriert, dass seine Musik trotz ihrer radikalen Oberfläche nach traditionellen Richtlinien angelegt ist. Nach einem weiteren Moment der Stille schließt die Exposition mit einem aufgeweckten Codetta-Motiv und vermeidet daher, dass das zweite Thema in seiner eigenen Wärme verschmachtet. Wie im klassischen Vorbild wird die Exposition, jetzt variiert, wiederholt, und geht in den ersten Abschnitt der Durchführung über. Das Vorbild bietet also eine Quelle der Erfindung statt einer Beschränkung.

Im Gegensatz zum ersten kommen im zweiten Satz die beiden Hände zusammen, um das „Thema“—eine Akkordsequenz—zu formen. In ihrer einfachsten Form wären sie den Akkorden im „langsamen Finale“ der zweiten Sonate ähnlich, aber hier, selbst in ihrer ursprünglichen Präsentation, sind sie gespreizt und komplex. Die erste Variation betont die Akkorde, die zweite die Verarbeitung, die dritte eine kantable Melodik, und die vierte löst sich in einen Nebel von Trillern auf, deren träumerische Stille dramatisch und brutal durch die Sturzflut unerbittlicher Aktivität erschüttert wird, die nicht nur den Beginn sondern das gesamte Finale auszeichnet, das die karge zweistimmige Schreibweise des ersten Satzes wieder aufgreift. Diese erstaunliche Inspiration lässt sich leicht beschreiben: ein erster Abschnitt (der mit Repetitionen auf zwei benachbarten Noten endet), ein zweiter, der der erste rückwärts ist, dann der erste noch einmal, bis er schließlich aus seinem Zirkel herausgerissen wird und ungestüm schließt. Seine Wurzeln lassen sich vielleicht im Finale von Chopins „Trauermarsch“-Sonate oder im Jazz eines Pianisten wie Art Tatum finden, aber nichts bereitet auf einen Satz vor, der gleichzeitg wild berauschend ist und sozusagen hinter Gitter gehalten wird.

aus dem Begleittext von Ian Kemp © 2007
Deutsch: Renate Wendel