Steven Osborne’s first foray into Schubert was a widely-praised album of duets with Paul Lewis, which many reviewers granted instant ‘classic’ status. Some four years later, he returns to the composer, for whom he clearly has a deep love and innate empathy. The second set of Four Impromptus D935 is coupled here not with the first set (as is usually done), but with the Three Piano Pieces D946—though these are so similar in design as to be impromptus in all but name.
This is intimate music—Schubert at home, playing for his friends—an atmosphere which Osborne conveys wonderfully well with his characteristically pellucid singing tone and unmannered phrasing. Listen, for instance, to the gorgeous melody (you won’t be able to get it out of your head!) in the opening F minor Impromptu, played by the left hand constantly crossing back and forth over the right, or the light-as-a-feather scale passages in No 4.
While it’s a joy to hear such a beautifully-voiced Steinway in these hands (superbly recorded, by the way), the less familiar Hüttenbrenner Variations (13 in all, based on the slow movement of his friend’s E major string quartet, and composed a decade earlier in 1817) are pleasant enough, but hardly on the same exalted level.