David Nice
BBC Music Magazine
May 2022

Trust Steven Osborne to cast candlelight on the distant voices and supernatural happenings others often miss in Rachmaninov. This may not be the most consistently sonorous interpretation of the massive First Piano Sonata—for that, turn to Lugansky (Naïve) or Hayroudinoff (Onyx)—but I suspect that Osborne is pacing himself, and us, across the course of the vast opening Allegro moderato, and when he pulls the full stops out, it’s awe inspiring (try the mid-point for the full dynamic range, from huge fortissimo to mysterious becalming). The ultimate build in the finale is astounding, too. Disquiet continues in the utterly original D minor Prelude Rachmaninov wrote, but never saw published in his lifetime, in 1917, with Osborne providing a segue into the ‘Fragments’; the oddly-named ‘Oriental Sketch’ makes a good third movement to a very odd Sonatina-like sequence, also not without its creepy moments.

I didn’t know that Rachmaninov had made a piano version of the Nunc Dimittis in the Vespers, the tenor-and-wordless-chorus movement performed at his funeral; it’s the only truly calm stretch of the recital. As Osborne presents them, the innocuously-titled Moments musicaux are half phantoms retreating into darkness and pausing for obsession before finally melting into ever-more-brilliant day; the full sequence is vital. Again, the haunting is absolute, the final pounding C major chords stunning. A little more brilliance in the treble wouldn’t have gone amiss—that may be to do with the recordings—but the sound suits the enigmatic quality of so much here rather well.