Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: in E minor, A and in B flat performed by Steven Osborne

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Sonatas: in E minor, Op. 90; in A, Op. 101; in B flat, Op. 106
PERFORMER: Steven Osborne (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 68073

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Steven Osborne, the most technically accomplished British pianist since John Ogdon, recently talked about this recording on BBC Radio 3 with Andrew McGregor, and especially about the ubiquity of counterpoint in the vast Hammerklavier Sonata Op. 106. The disc bears out his views, in that one can hear the separate voices of the writing with, so far as I know, unique clarity. The first movement becomes something in which, even more than usual with late Beethoven, everything is part of the structure of the work. There is hardly anything which could properly be called accompaniment. That makes the last movement, the gigantic fugue, seem more inevitable than it often does, though no less demanding and even shocking, in its length, dissonances and persistence.

The whole work, which I listen to perhaps more than any other piano piece, struck me afresh with Osborne bringing so many new insights to it. Though overall his is a rapid reading, the slow movement seems just as gigantic as in performances that last several minutes longer, thanks to Osborne’s determination not to let any detail pass unnoticed.

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After this, any of the earlier sonatas is bound to sound lightweight, and the only complaint I have is that the three works are presented in reverse order. They are given fine performances, but I can’t imagine that anyone will want to listen to anything for some time after this colossal Hammerklavier.
Michael Tanner