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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: 35 minutes 37 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 23
composer
mainly 1903; No 5: 1901

Other recordings available for download
Howard Shelley (piano)
Howard Shelley (piano)
Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Ten years after the Prelude in C sharp minor, Rachmaninov returned to the genre, once again in a mood of creative elation, having recently overcome two years of writers’ block to produce his Piano Concerto No 2. The harmonic and pianistic idiom of that work is strongly reflected in the collection of ten Preludes that make up his Op 23, composed between 1901 and 1903 (beginning with the famous G minor, No 5). If Rachmaninov needed emotional fuel for the soul-states explored in this set, he could have found it easily enough in his own past—in the joys of his privileged upbringing and especially the trauma of being twice uprooted from it (once thanks to the spendthrift habits of his father, then owing to failure in all his exams through laziness). The product of those elements was an intense nostalgia. At the same time, however, he had been building up one of the most formidable piano techniques of his day, thanks to the forcing-house regime of Nikolai Zverev and later the guidance of Rachmaninov’s cousin, the Liszt-pupil Alexander Siloti. And despite a certain reluctance to do his homework, he seems somehow to have acquired equally solid skills as a composer from his lessons with Sergei Taneyev, the greatest Russian master of counterpoint (as Tchaikovsky accurately described him). He was therefore able to fashion textures of maximal grandeur and opulence without resort to facile effect-mongering.

The opening Preludes of Op 23 establish three archetypes for the entire set. The sighing motifs of the slow F sharp minor, No 1, define a tone of melancholy introspection, while the florid arpeggios, indomitable chords and luxuriant final cascades of the fast B flat major, No 2, are redolent of a determination to master any adversity; No 3 in D minor, Tempo di minuetto, mediates between the extremes, its centre of gravity being a restrained neo-classicism that can shade into introversion or extroversion at will. The template established in these three opening Preludes is followed by the next four. No 4 is a Schumannesque song without words (compare the second of Schumann’s Romanzen Op 28), while the famous G minor Alla marcia frames melting lyricism with militant energy; the neo-Baroque phase then has to wait while the sighing lyrical E flat Prelude once again demonstrates Rachmaninov’s mastery of decorative accompaniment. When the maximalized Bachian toccata style of the C minor Prelude No 7 arrives, it does so as a tour de force. The last three Preludes in the Op 23 set are anything but anticlimactic. The A flat major No 8 sticks to its right-hand figuration as tenaciously, yet as resourcefully, as a Chopin Study, while the double notes of the Presto E flat minor are an earthier reincarnation of Liszt’s Feux follets (Will-o’-the-wisps) from the Transcendental Studies. Finally the slow G flat major avoids applause-orientated strategies and instead modestly closes the frame of the opus, reworking the sighs of the opening F sharp minor Prelude.

from notes by David Fanning © 2009


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