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Hyperion Records

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House on the Water (1930) by Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Private Collection / Photo © Christie's Images / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67879
Recording details: July 2011
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: May 2012
Total duration: 20 minutes 0 seconds

'It's part of Osborne's personal excursion to seek the individual potency of each Bagatelle … the more you listen (aided by a plausibly lifelike recording), the clearer it'll become that Osborne has delved deep to extract so much from cameos that pack emotional enormity within small spaces' (Gramophone)

'The joy of having a player of Steven Osborne's spare, rhythmically incisive brilliance … these pieces display Beethoven's genius for creating artistic grandeur from the most miniature of pianistic forms' (The Observer)

'Steven Osborne plays with pearly, silky insouciance … this disc follows on from his one of Beethoven sonatas, and it ignites a similar joy in the way that he conveys ideas so lucidly and with such subtle shades of tone, distilling the essence of each miniature with potency and freshness' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Beautifully poised and unfailingly intelligent … the crystal clarity of Osborne's exquisitely polished pianism is an unalloyed joy to the ear' (International Record Review)

'Pure joy … Steven Osborne … plays with razor-sharp attack and articulation' (Pianist)

'Steven Osborne includes all the published bagatelles and some of the miscellaneous pieces and plays them superbly … a classy pianist' (Dominion Post, New Zealand)

'Steven Osborne's new CD of the Bagatelles, recorded with all the artistry and attention you expect from Hyperion, catches all the whimsy that Beethoven's title suggests' (The New Zealand Herald)

Seven Bagatelles, Op 33
composer
published in 1803

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Beethoven composed bagatelles, or what he called Kleinigkeiten (‘trifles’), for piano throughout his career. He kept a collection of them in a folder, awaiting a time when he could prepare them for publication, and the first volume of such pieces to appear in print was issued in 1803, as his Op 33. It included items that went right back to the composer’s early years in Bonn; and in attempting to pinpoint a date for the first piece in the series he optimistically assigned it to the year 1782. He would have been a boy of twelve at the time, and he is unlikely to have sanctioned its publication so many years later without at least having revised it thoroughly. Perhaps the intricate, improvisatory runs that embellish the main theme (they become more elaborate with each appearance) were a later addition. Certainly, the rushing scale fragments that herald each return of the theme mirror the type of nervously abrupt style Beethoven cultivated in the mid-1790s.

The spasmodic rhythm of the C major No 2, with its off-beat accents in the right hand and timpani thuds in the left, is soon offset by a smooth and shadowy section in the minor, with fleeting left-hand triplets. This, however, turns out not to be the real trio, which, when it arrives, features staccato ascending scales in thirds.

The following number, in F major, is a gentle piece in pastoral style whose theme has a second half that charmingly echoes the first from a comparatively distant D major. Much more incisive is the fifth Bagatelle, which has lightning-quick semiquaver triplets for both hands which are continued by the left hand beneath the broader melody of the minor-mode middle section. The last piece of the series is a dazzling Presto in the expanded scherzo form, with the trio appearing twice between three statements of the scherzo itself, that came to be a hallmark of Beethoven’s symphonic style from the Razumovsky string quartets Op 59 and the Fourth Symphony onwards.

The two jewels of the set are, perhaps, the much more relaxed and lyrical fourth and sixth numbers. The melody in the first of these is inextricably woven into the two upper strands of the texture, but towards the end it moves down into the bass, and then into the tenor voice. As for the sixth Bagatelle, Beethoven wanted its gentle melody played with a speech-like quality. Following an embellished version of the melody which is in essence a variation, the piece comes to a close with chains of slowly descending thirds above a syncopated pedal-note that moves progressively downwards by octaves, allowing the music to fade away into the distance, in a pastoral atmosphere.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2012

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