These three Beethoven sonatas are often thrown together as a trilogy; each work seems to lead into the next, the technical demands and scale increasing as they progress. Steven Osborne’s disc places the Hammerklavier first. And it’s phenomenally good; a big-boned, entertaining performance of a vast, unwieldy work, Osborne capturing the grandeur along with the passages of whimsical introspection. There’s a racy scherzo and a beautifully sustained slow movement. And what a finale: Beethoven’s peculiar slow introduction leading to the most insanely complex of fugues. You need two brains and 20 fingers to play this stuff well. Osborne manages it with no sign of strain.
The Op 101 Sonata is a less daunting experience. The compact opening movement’s lyricism comes as a relief, and Osborne’s “Vivace alla marcia” has an engaging swagger. There’s more fugal fun in Beethoven’s last movement, handled with an aplomb that makes one want to hear this pianist playing Bach. The earlier, two-movement Sonata in E minor completes the disc. Osborne’s crisp articulation is a real pleasure, but he never makes the music sound hectoring or shrill. Warmth, wit and intelligence are present in equal measure. Superb performances, in rich, immediate sound.