I’ve always loved the way Steven Osborne plays French music—for the flux and febrile atmosphere, yes, but more for the rigour and steel. Forget any cliches of hazy impressionism, Osborne brings directness and muscle, and the boldest aspects of texture, form and image stand out in ultra high definition as a result.
His latest Debussy album is a perfect example. The goldfish of 'Poissons d’or' move in jerks and sudden flashes. The water droplets in 'Reflets dans l’eau' are super crisp, like pointillism writ large. At the end of 'Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum' the tune rings out like a defiant shout. It’s not pretty but it is exhilarating. There is gentleness too – try 'The snow is dancing', whispered and supple. But what makes Osborne’s interpretations so revelatory is his willingness to state in plain terms what many pianists make blurry. It shows up the astounding modernism of Debussy’s piano music.