A primary challenge in playing Beethoven’s Bagatelles is to convey spontaneously the distinctive essence of each brief piece. How difficult it must be to achieve such effects in the studio. In any case, on this outing Steven Osborne sounds inhibited. His playing is immaculately polished, but here he misses something of the arresting brusqueness, heartfelt lyricism, madcap zaniness, and tender melancholy – along with countless other shades of expression – that flit by in these pieces.
Some moments are reasonably successful: Osborne endows WoO 52 with effective energy, and there’s no question that Op. 33 No. 4 and Für Elise are performed with fine sensitivity. Osborne’s most expressive playing comes in the reflective moments of the Op. 126 Bagatelles. But alongside such predecessors as Artur Schnabel, Alfred Brendel, and Stephen Kovacevich, Osborne has an air of caution, even when (as in Opp. 33 No. 7 and 119 No. 7) such excessive capriciousness is the main point. And his playing seems overly concerned with maintaining a regular metrical pulse, which means that he doesn’t make the most of the humourous potential of Bagatelles Opp. 33 No. 2 and 33 No. 5.
Of available versions, Brendel’s offers a greater sense of adventure and trenchancy.