There have been some classic interpreters of Ravel’s G major concerto: Entremont (also coupled with Falla’s Nights), Katchen, Haas, Argerich; more recently, Zimerman, Wang, Bavouzet and Aimard, to pluck a few illustrious names not entirely at random. Steven Osborne’s new account is fully worthy of comparison with these forebears. Indeed, I would go so far as to suggest that this is the finest modern recording of both concertos – and a rival to any predecessor. Osborne’s playing of Ravel’s misleadingly light and fluffy surface details is matched by an understanding of its multi-layered lyricism, interpreted most sensitively in the long solo of the central Adagio assai. But he is wonderfully and lightly virtuosic in the outer movements also, and it is hard to be sure what is more impressive: the virtuosity or the effortlessness with which it is delivered. The darker D major is equally compelling, Osborne’s phrasing of the left-hand lines scintillating in effect.
Osborne—who over the years has given us marvellously insightful recordings of Alkan, Kapustin, Messiaen, Stravinsky, Tippett, Crumb and Feldman, to name a few—Is wonderfully supported by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra directed by Ludovic Morlot (so impressive recently in his Dutilleux series in Seattle), and they combine just as compellingly in Falla’s masterly impressionistic (and scenic) triptych of ‘symphonic impressions’ that makes up Nights in the Gardens of Spain.
Like Mari Kodama and Kazuki Yamada on their recent Pentatone issue, Osborne steers a relatively swift course through Nights. Unlike them, Osborne and Morlot catch a much more vivid and nicely drawn Iberian feel to the music. This is the one to have.