The holy trinity of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas Opuses 109, 110 & 111 thrives under Steven Osborne’s intense musicianship; an unmissable release.
He has an astonishing way of animating everything he plays, frequently taking matters close to extra-musical boundaries. He also keeps faithfully close to all the scores’ directions, and the results seethe with detail. Yet this is far from pedantic as he puts elemental aspects such as weight, shade and definition to work. The Hyperion recording in this respect sympathetically supports Osborne’s clarity and his dynamic deployment of a powerful Steinway.
The thing Osborne gets absolutely right is his giving these Sonatas their head, so that their originality and strangeness are unforced and unexaggerated. They may not form a sequence, but this album is so considered and perceptive that you are hooked from the start, and even after many hearings there is still something new to take in. Osborne nails the process of tension and release in the first movement of Opus 109 beautifully, the vitality of the second movement, apart from its energy, catches exactly the difference between Prestissimo and the opening’s Vivace marking, and the Variations steal upon you with organic inevitability—and listen to the miraculous way Osborne picks out the Theme’s many manifestations.
His playing of Opus 110 is outstanding, and in terms of balancing the first movement’s classicism and romantic fantasy second-to-none in refreshing its exploration. Osborne then goes on to deliver a profoundly considered account of the multi-layered slow movement, with the sequence of repeated G major chords charged with mystery and anticipation. Osborne’s ferocity in Opus 111’s first movement takes no prisoners and he makes you hear everything. The subsequent Variations unfold a process of revelation, repose and advance that moves naturally to a quietly glittering infinity.