Michael Church
BBC Music Magazine
June 2019

Beethoven wrote the first movement of his Op 109 sonata as a stand-alone piece for a piano tutor, and that is how Steven Osborne delivers it—as a playfully affectionate alternation of sweet fluidity and ruminative recitative. But, persuaded that this piece would be better used as the foundation of a whole sonata, Beethoven then went on to incorporate it into a trio of sonatas which, as Barry Cooper says in his liner notes, are best heard together as a cycle. And that is how Osborne plays them, making a virtue of their emotional complementarities. Osborne plays the variations of Op 109 with refinement, letting them grow to majestic proportions before returning to the cantabile simplicity of the theme. And he takes Beethoven's marking 'con amabilita' as his cue for the first movement of Op 110, playing with such restraint that it feels as though lost in a dream—then letting the earthy energy of the drinking song crash in as a rude incursion. The rest of this Sonata comes in carefully-calibrated chiaroscuro as Beethoven's colourings modulate from subfusc greys to a final blaze of light. After a mighty and full-blooded account of the Op 111 Allegro, he gives both the jazziest performance of the variations I have ever heard, and also one of the most heart-stopping in their ultimate finality. Beethoven, after all, saw this work as his farewell to the piano sonata.