Christopher Dingle
BBC Music Magazine
May 2017

Anyone who knows Steven Osborne's superlative set of Ravel's solo piano music (also on Hyperion) will be impatient to hear him in the concertos. It may seem perverse then to start with the other work on this disc, but Manuel de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain is anything but incidental padding. Longer than either of the concertos it is an outstanding companion, for the Frenchman was a key influence on Falla, while, with his Basque heritage, Ravel repeatedly turned to Spain for inspiration. Full of colour, both Osborne's poetry and his exceptional touch are to the fore, the sparkling cascades in the final movement being especially breathtaking. It is a pity, then, that the improvisatory motifs are demure rather than swooning seductively in the face of the wonderfully pungent horns of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

Osborne and Ludovic Morlot generally play things similarly straight in both Ravel concertos, with every detail in place, a wonderful zest on the G major Concerto and suitably imposing bravura in the left-Hand Concerto. The absence of false sentimentality is admirable, though a little more fluidity would be welcome in places. Not that nuance is lacking. Osborne's curious (lack of) emphasis for some melody notes in the sublime long solo that opens the movement is not entirely convincing, but he elicits spine-tingling shadings of colour as the movement progresses, while the left hand sounds almost like a harp at times. Minor caveats aside, these are strong performances of a programme that bears repeated listening.