Review: Steven Osborne

First published in The Herald on 27 January, 2014

It wasn’t surprising that the Conservatoire’s concert hall was packed with students for this lunchtime recital. Who better a role model than pianist Steven Osborne? Here is a musician at the very top of his game, a musician with enough authority that he doesn’t have to shout loud to make us listen in close. His technique is ferociously powerful, sure, and he really let it fly in a barnstorming performance of Rachmaninov’s Second Sonata. But it was the gradations of colour, the way he breathed space into phrases, the inquisitive touch and magical sense of flux that made this recital so captivating. His playing is exciting for its latent possibility: the knowledge that it could erupt at any moment, but usually doesn’t.

He opened with a searching account of Ravel’s Miroirs. The first movement (Noctuelles) grew from a whisper and the chordal passages were pensive and unhurried. Oiseaux tristes had a sad sway and fragile serenity; Alborada del gracioso had real fire and frenetic bravado, while the finale, La vallee des cloches, was haunting and introspective.

Osborne launched into the Rachmaninov almost without pause, and what a perfect storm of an opening it was. These Conservatoire walls will have witnessed countless students pounding their way through this powerhouse of a piece; what was so impressive about this performance was that its force was always brisk and focused and its gestures always incisive no matter how clattering their drama. When Osborne took time it was over the first movement’s bittersweet second theme – earthy, folk-like – or the gentle, lilting, almost Ravelian second movement. That said, he also dashed off a thrilling the finale. A performance that had it all.