Colin Anderson
Classical Source
September 2015

Steven Osborne chooses the second set of Schubert’s Impromptus and opens the sequence with the flourish of the F-minor, played crisply and dramatically, and nicely modulated in terms of expression and dynamics. It’s a subtly searching reading that is very affecting. So too the limpid beauty of the A-flat, phrased sublimely by Osborne with no need for artifice; his sensitivity unfolds a special reading, not least in the middle section where the pianist’s ear for volume and tonal variance pays many dividends. Such artlessness informs the expansive B-flat Impromptu, based on the same-key ‘Entr’acte’ from Schubert’s music for Rosamunde, given with due gravitas but without undue distension; there is also a delightful sparkle, as there is too in the F-minor ‘finale’ that here scampers along, Osborne’s clarity ensuring shapeliness, and the coda is resolute, as if a grand Sonata has been ended.

If Three Piano Pieces (prepared for posthumous publication by Brahms) seems bland as a title then each one contains remarkable music, written in the final year of Schubert’s life, and with the triptych of Piano Sonatas (D958-960) still to come. The first Piece is of drive and consolation – and Osborne gives a near-perfect account of it. He goes on to also dig deep into its E-flat successor, its heavenly (if watery) melody beautifully shaped, contrasts through the two ‘trio’ sections ideally made while retaining a wholeness of vision. The final Piece, restless then remote, eventually comes to a forceful conclusion, and is brilliantly played.

Anselm Hüttenbrenner and Schubert became close comrades in 1815 when they were pupils of Salieri. Of course, Schubert would die young, in 1828 aged 31, whereas his friend survived him by forty years. The Theme, a measured march, is from the slow movement of Hüttenbrenner’s String Quartet in E, Opus 12. The Variations that follow are attractive in their initial effortlessness, the source kept in view, and becoming more complex and imaginative, with some ear-tickling adaptations. The whole is played with sympathy and superb musicianship by Osborne, as throughout the recital, and the recording is a model of warmth and lucidity.

If you would like a one word summing up: outstanding!