CD review: Steven Osborne plays late Beethoven

First published in the Guardian on 6 October, 2016

Beethoven: Piano sonatas Op. 90, 101 & 106
Steven Osborne (Hyperion)

This is Steven Osborne’s 25th recording for the Hyperion label and what marker it is. The Scottish pianist plays with an authority built on intelligent, very human musicianship: his accounts of these three late-period Beethoven sonatas are hugely personal but are never about him. He orders the music in reverse, starting with the fearsome Hammerklavier and playing the explosive outer movements with a high-definition élan that makes this wildest of Beethoven sonatas sound even wilder. Slow movements are tender, plain-speaking, profound; there are marvellously shaded places in Opus 101’s third movement and subtle, joyous colour changes every time the golden theme of Opus 90’s second movement comes around. Meanwhile the piano’s damper pedals rise and fall with audible percussion — nice to hear some tangible mechanism noises in a recording, but distracting in playing that invites such close listening.