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Track(s) taken from CDA67461/2

Piano Sonata No 1

1936/8, revised 1942

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: 20 minutes 7 seconds

Cover artwork: Symphony (1915) by Michail Ivanovich Menkov (1885-1926)
Art Museum, Samara, Russia / Bridgeman Art Library, London


'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 music 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)
This work, completed in 1938, was written against a background of the Spanish Civil War and the rise of Nazism. Its invigorating exterior represented, however, not English indifference to events on the Continent but, on the contrary, a calculated attempt to offer vitality and optimism to anyone with ears to hear. This is already clear in the opening movement, a theme and variations, whose elaborate rhythmic and textural transformations are arranged in a sequence of two fast variations, a slow variation, a scherzo variation in a contrasting key, a minore variation in the style of a cadenza, and the final variation, a restatement of the theme. Tippett later revised the minore variation because its improvisatory character had lost direction and its rhythms discipline. This last consideration was crucial in a variation which marked the culmination of a process subjecting the 3+2 construction of the theme to continuous expansion and contraction.

The slow movement is built around two elements, a folksong and a two-part invention. The folksong yields somewhat, being a paraphrase of ‘Ca’ the yowes’, the beautiful Scottish tune with words by Burns (which Tippett was to use again in his next work, the Concerto for double string orchestra). The invention also yields somewhat, being based on motives from the folksong. But the contrast remains extreme, an index of Tippett’s compositional daring.

The Presto scherzo is equally daring—a sonata-form based on the dynamic material appropriate to a ‘first subject’ and lyrical material not appropriate to a ‘second subject’, that is, another folksong (on this occasion newly invented) and thus another clash of styles. The use of folksong of course reflected the prevailing climate of English music; but Tippett’s juxtaposition of folksong with the procedures of the great classics reflected something else, the challenges he set himself in the pursuit of technical proficiency. The most ambitious feature of the movement was his decision to place the sonata-form movement, the weightiest of all the movements in a sonata, third; it usually came first. This altered the balance and thus presented a further challenge. His solution to this particular one was an easy-going finale, couched in the argot of the music-hall but with incongruous intrusions from the well-bred language he had just abandoned—the first example of Tippett’s instinct to avoid pomposity and be inclusive, here with the cake-walk, in later works with jazz, spirituals, blues and boogie-woogie.

from notes by Ian Kemp © 2007

Cette œuvre, achevée en 1938, fut écrite sur fond de guerre civile espagnole et de montée du nazisme. Sa tonifiante apparence ne traduisit cependant en rien une certaine indifférence anglaise pour les événements qui se déroulaient sur le Continent: bien au contraire, elle fut une tentative calculée pour offrir vitalité et optimisme à tous ceux qui avaient des oreilles pour entendre. Cette volonté s’affiche dès le mouvement d’ouverture, un thème et variations dont les complexes métamorphoses de rythme et de texture sont agencées ainsi: deux variations rapides, une variation lente, une variation de scherzo dans une tonalité contrastée, une variation minore dans le style d’une cadenza et, en variation finale, une réexposition du thème. Plus tard, Tippett révisa la variation minore, dont le caractère improvisé lui avait fait perdre toute ligne directrice et toute discipline rythmique. Or, cette dernière était cruciale dans une variation qui marquait l’apogée d’un processus soumettant la construction à 3+2 du thème à une dilatation/contraction continue.

Le mouvement lent est bâti autour de deux éléments: un folksong et une invention à deux parties. Le folksong tient un peu de la concession, puisque Tippett y paraphrasa «Ca’ the yowes», le splendide air écossais sur des paroles de Burns qu’il devait réutiliser dans son œuvre suivante, le Concerto pour double orchestre à cordes. L’invention est, elle aussi, un peu une concession puisqu’elle repose sur des motifs de ce folksong. Le contraste entre les deux n’en demeure pas moins extrême, signe de l’audace compositionnelle de Tippett.

Le scherzo, tout aussi hardi, est une forme sonate fondée sur le matériau dynamique convenant à un «premier sujet» et un matériau lyrique inadapté à un «deuxième sujet»—il s’agit d’une autre folksong (cette fois inventé de toutes pièces) et donc d’une nouvelle friction stylistique. L’utilisation du folksong reflète, bien sûr, le climat qui prévalait alors dans la musique anglaise; mais la juxtaposition de ce folksong aux procédés des grands classiques indique autre chose: elle nous renvoie aux défis que Tippett se lança dans sa quête de la maîtrise technique. La caractéristique la plus ambitieuse de cette page tient à la décision de placer le mouvement de forme sonate, le plus pesant de tous les mouvements d’une sonate, non en première mais en troisième position. Ce qui modifia l’équilibre et souleva une nouvelle difficulté que Tippett aplanit par un finale décontracté, formulé dans l’argot du music-hall mais avec d’incongrues intrusions du langage policé qu’il venait d’abandonner—le premier exemple de son don pour éviter toute pompe et pour inclure divers éléments (ici, le cake-walk; dans des œuvres plus tardives, ce seront le jazz, les spirituals, le blues et le boogie-woogie).

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

Dieses Werk, das 1938 vollendet wurde, entstand vor der Kulisse des spanischen Bürgerkriegs und dem Aufsieg des Nationalsozialismus. Seine erfrischende Fassade repräsentierte jedoch keinesfalls eine englische Gleichgültigkeit gegenüber den Ereignissen auf dem Kontinent, sondern ganz im Gegenteil eine kalkulierte Bemühung, jedem, der Ohren zum Hören hat, Vitalität und Optimismus zu verleihen. Dies wird bereits im ersten Satz—Thema mit Variationen—klar, dessen komplizierte rhythmische und strukturelle Transformationen in einer Folge zweier schneller Variationen, einer langsamen, einer Scherzo-Variation in einer kontrastierenden Tonart, einer Minore-Variation im Stil einer Kadenz, und der abschließenden Variation, einer Neuaufstellung des Themas, vorgestellt werden. Tippett revidierte die Minore-Variation später, da ihr improvisatorischer Charakter sie richtungslos und ihren Rhythmus undiszipliniert gemacht hatten. Dieses letzte Bedenken war ausschlaggebend in einer Variation, die die Kulmination eines Prozesses darstellte, der die 3+2-Konstruktion des Themas einer kontinuierlichen Ausweitung und Kompression unterwarf.

Der langsame Satz ist um zwei Elemente herum konstruiert: ein Volkslied und eine zweistimmige Invention. Das Volkslied, eine Paraphrase der hübschen schottischen Weise „Ca’ the yowes“ auf Worte von Burns (das Tippett auch in seinem nächsten Werk, dem Konzert für doppeltes Streichorchester verwenden sollte) ist etwas nachgiebig, wie auch die Invention, die auf Motiven aus dem Volkslied basiert. Aber der Kontrast bleibt extrem—ein Maßstab für Tippetts kompositorischen Wagemut.

Das Scherzo ist ähnlich kühn—eine Sonatenform, die auf dynamischem Material beruht, die einem „ersten Thema“ angemessen ist und lyrischem Material (einem weiteren, diesmal neu erfundenen Volkslied), das nicht für ein „zweites Thema“ angemessen ist—also wiederum Stile, die sich „beißen“. Die Verwendung des Volksliedes spiegelt natürlich das in der englischen Musik vorherrschende Klima wieder, aber Tippetts Gegenüberstellung von Volkslied und den Verarbeitungstechniken der großen Klassiker reflektiert etwas anderes: die Herausforderungen, die er sich im Streben nach technischer Geläufigkeit stellte. Das ehrgeizigste Merkmal hier war seine Entscheidung, den Satz in Sonaten(haupt)satzform, also den gewichtigsten Satz in einer Sonate, an dritte Stelle zu setzen—üblicherweise kam er zuerst. Dies änderte die Balance und stellte eine weitere Herausforderung. Seine Lösung zu diesem Problem war ein unbeschwertes Finale im Dialekt des Varietétheaters, aber mit unpassenden Einmischungen von der wohlerzogenen Sprache, die er gerade hinter sich gelassen hatte—das erste Beispiel für Tippetts Instinkt, Großspurigkeit zu vermeiden, und seine inklusive Einstellung—hier mit einem Cakewalk, in späteren Werken mit Jazz, Blues und Boogie-Woogie.

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

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