David Nice
BBC Music Magazine
October 2022

Any recital recording that programmes only shortish pieces runs a risk, and even more so when they’re all by the same composer. I shouldn’t have worried with Steven Osborne in command. Not only are there plenty of lively dances on here to counter the cliché of the ‘wispy’ Debussy, but the contrasts between tracks and the clarity at any dynamic level—and of course Osborne can play with magical refinement—are wondrous. I’m indebted to the pianist for a revelation: among the pieces I didn’t know are the three Images oubliées (so-named to distinguish them from the later and more familiar two sets of Images piano pieces). One of the most beautiful dedications I’ve ever read, which I wish I could quote in full—it’s to 17-year-old Yvonne Lerolle and mentions ‘“conversations” between the Piano and Oneself’ (the descriptions in the score, not all given here, are a pleasure to read, too). Composed in 1894, the first two feel like delicate tendrils from the forest of Pelléas et Mélisande, which Debussy had already begun.

In fact there are really middle-period pieces here as well as early, with a handful of late miniatures forming a mysterious coda. Only in the Valse romantique and the Ballade slave does the level drop slightly, but Osborne rivets ones attention. Rêverie is probably the first piece you’ll recognise, but it comes from another world and sounds utterly different; ‘Clair de lune’ works best surrounded by light-filled neoclassical companions in the Suite bergamasque. Total delight, whether you listen to it in one or more sittings.