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Hyperion Records

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Water Lilies (1895) by Isaac Levitan (1860-1900)
Astrakhan State Gallery B M Kostodiev, Astrakhan, Russia / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67700
Recording details: August 2008
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by David Hinitt
Release date: May 2009
Total duration: 37 minutes 25 seconds

'There are few pianists who offer such range and depth of palette: not even Ashkenazy's seminal reading … this has award-winner written all over it' (Gramophone)

'Outstanding Rachmaninov playing of acute perception, discretion and poetic sensibility, limpid, powerful and luminous in equal measure' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This sensational pianist … brings his technical wizardry and, above all, his penetrating musical intelligence to these much-recorded works of Rachmaninov … in his combination of modesty, inner fire and natural virtuosity he brings to mind that other Rachmaninov master, Ashkenazy' (The Observer)

'Extremely impressive all round … Osborne lavishes a remarkable level of authority on every one of these masterworks, playing with a rare combination of technical ease, tonal lustre and idiomatic identification. He also has the undeniable advantage of a magnificent Steinway instrument with a rich, opulent sonority and great solidity in its bass register … in summary, Osborne goes from strength to strength as he moves through the cycle, wrapping up the final page of the concluding D flat prelude in a blaze of glory … for a truly spellbinding modern account, Osborne now holds the winning ticket' (International Record Review)

'The brilliant Scottish pianist Steven Osborne is unafraid of challenges … he scales the 24 preludes of the great Sergei, and does so with passion and authority … Osborne flies free without ever rampaging. Sorrow and sunlight, death and life, all Rachmaninov is here, in three dimensions, luscious colour and widescreen. A most exciting release' (The Times)

'Osborne is perhaps the most convincing since Vladimir Ashkenazy … his dazzling technique illuminates the virtuosic allegro and allegretto sections, and his playing has a Rachmaninovian pliancy and beautifully achieved rubato in lyrical passages. One of the piano discs of the year' (The Sunday Times)

'The velvet tone with which Osborne caresses the tendrils of the melody at the beginning of Op 23/6, the stunning clarity of the gesture in Op 32/6 and the fingerwork in Op 32/8, the gloriously saturated climax of Op 31/13 … the subtly of color and his unerring control of phrasing and dynamics over long musical spans, the lyricism never turns saccharine, the introspection never turns to self-pity, and the melancholy never glowering … Osborne is arguably at the top of the list' (Fanfare, USA)

'This astonishingly good full set recording … Osborne's musicality is exquisite, addictive and sensational. This is a disc you'll want to listen to over and over again' (The Scotsman)

'Refreshingly personal and intimate … Osborne reveals that many of the preludes exploit a siciliano rhythmic pulse … [his] slow first pages, visceral acceleration, and old-castle carillon will haunt your musical memory for a long time' (Audiophile Audition, USA)

'This is an absolutely superb disc, one of the very finest integral sets of these works I have ever heard. Osborne's playing is magnificent throughout … this issue simply has to go to the top of the recommended list' (Musical Opinion)

'Rachmaninoff's piano preludes are exercises in grand keyboard virtuosity but it's the rare pianist who can bring out the limpid grace and emotional transparency behind those flurries of notes. Steven Osborne is such an artist, as this ravishingly beautiful new disc demonstrates … the results are magnificent' (San Francisco Chronicle)

'Steven Osborne meets the considerable pianistic demands of Rachmaninov's Preludes with effortless aplomb and elegant, world-class mastery … collectors seeking the best combination of sound and interpretation will gain long-lasting satisfaction from Osborne's formidable achievement' (Listen, USA)

Preludes, Op 32
August/September 1910; No 6: 25/8; No 8: 24/8; No 10: 6/9; No 12: 23/8

Other recordings available for download
Howard Shelley (piano)
Howard Shelley (piano)
Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Unlike Chopin, Scriabin and even Shostakovich, Rachmaninov does not order his preludes systematically by keys. In fact it is not even clear precisely when he determined that he would complete a cycle of twenty-four, though he had evidently decided on that path when he came to compose the thirteen Preludes of his Op 32 in 1910. This was directly after his Piano Concerto No 3 (as before, there is a certain amount of overlap with the pianistic idiom of that work). Yet there are enough informal tonal relationships between consecutive Preludes—especially in the Op 32 collection, where eight of the preludes are paired by opposite modes—and enough variety in the succession of tempi and moods, to make performance of each set, or even of all twenty-four Preludes, as a unit a realistic option for any pianist intrepid enough to take it.

The C major finger-loosener often placed at the outset of such a cycle now appears as a launch-pad for the Op 32 Preludes. This one is not as ferociously sky-rocketing as its counterpart in Liszt’s Transcendentals, but it certainly issues a challenge, not least by proposing rising motifs as a counter-balance to Rachmaninov’s habitual dying falls. A neoclassical archetype not yet explored is the swaying siciliano rhythm, which now becomes the guiding thread through the B flat minor Prelude, No 2, a piece built on two waves of acceleration, neither of which succeeds in shaking off a fundamental melancholy or in avoiding a conclusion in a mood of stoical resignation.

The Allegro vivace E major Prelude does break free, however, in another neo-Bachian aerobic workout, almost like an updated solo version of a Brandenburg Concerto. There is even, perhaps, the ghost of gigue behind its shadowy successor, the E minor Prelude No 4, whose contrasting sigh figures are eventually given their due in a languorous central section. With the rocking motion and ecstatic, flowering melody of the G major No 5 we gain the first glimpse in the Op 32 set of consoling lyricism. At the opposite extreme, the turbulent F minor is full of wrathful passion. The nearest Rachmaninov comes to cheery playfulness in any of his Preludes is the almost genial F major, No 7. Pre-figuring the Étude-tableau from Op 39 in the same key, the A minor Prelude No 8 is implacably driven, as if with the wind at its back and the rain swirling round it. A further switch to the opposite mode for No 9 brings another luxuriant tapestry woven from the thread of a sighing motif. Then come two more siciliano-based pieces, the slow B minor Prelude, No 10, with its pulverizing contrasting section, and the faster, more restrained B major Prelude.

The G sharp minor Prelude, No 12, is the last favourite encore piece in the set, its harp-like figurations running like water down the window-panes of a Russian dacha. Finally the D flat major Prelude once again closes a frame, this time harking right back to the infamous C sharp minor of Op 3; it also has a certain summative quality, thanks to its inclusion of siciliano rhythms, sighing motifs, étude figurations, an accelerating middle section and a ringing chordal apotheosis. As if to trademark his piano idiom, Rachmaninov here concludes with a piece that demands a formidable hand-stretch, of the kind he almost uniquely possessed.

from notes by David Fanning © 2009

Other albums featuring this work
'Sergio Fiorentino – The Early Recordings, Vol. 5 – Rachmaninov' (APR5585)
Sergio Fiorentino – The Early Recordings, Vol. 5 – Rachmaninov
MP3 £6.99FLAC £6.99ALAC £6.99 APR5585  Download only  
'Rachmaninov: 24 Preludes' (CDA30015)
Rachmaninov: 24 Preludes
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99Buy by post £8.50 CDA30015  Hyperion 30th Anniversary series  
'Rachmaninov: Preludes Op 32' (CDA66082)
Rachmaninov: Preludes Op 32
'Rachmaninov: The Complete Solo Piano Music' (CDS44041/8)
Rachmaninov: The Complete Solo Piano Music
MP3 £35.00FLAC £35.00ALAC £35.00 CDS44041/8  Boxed set (at a special price) — Download only  
'Rachmaninov: Demidenko plays Rachmaninov' (CDH55239)
Rachmaninov: Demidenko plays Rachmaninov
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55239  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Eileen Joyce – The complete Parlophone & Columbia solo recordings' (APR7502)
Eileen Joyce – The complete Parlophone & Columbia solo recordings
MP3 £16.49FLAC £16.49ALAC £16.49 APR7502  Download only  
'Simon Barere – His celebrated live recordings at Carnegie Hall, Vol. 2 – 9 March 1947' (APR5622)
Simon Barere – His celebrated live recordings at Carnegie Hall, Vol. 2 – 9 March 1947
MP3 £6.99FLAC £6.99ALAC £6.99 APR5622  Download only  

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