Piano Sonata No. 6 in A, Op. 82; Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat, Op. 83; Piano Sonata No. 8 in B flat, Op. 84
Steven Osborne (piano)
Hyperion CDA68298 74:28 mins
From first electrifying note-punch to last, with so much poetry and poignancy in between, this is a tour de force of pianism highlighting what seems more than ever like the great sonata sequence of the 20th century.
There are so many towering performances of these harrowing works, from Sviatoslav Richter to the latest Russian pianist to record a complete Prokofiev sonatas cycle, Alexander Melnikov (on Harmonia Mundi), but I believe Steven Osborne caps them all: the greatness marked out in his Messiaen is absolutely confirmed in a disc of the decade (if you grant that it was recorded before the 2010s came to a close).
Hyperbole? Well, given space, I could reason further with plenty of detailed chapter and verse as to why. Suffice it to say that for me Osborne’s choices in tempos and tone colour seem infallible. The bittersweet-to-violent slow movements of the Sixth and Seventh Sonatas, the opening Andante dolce of the Eighth – the deepest of them all – followed by an ideally limping Minuet and dreaming second subjects all have exactly the right space and articulation they need; the careful consideration of how much or little pedal to use, contrasting violent bite with resonant lyricism, is the most revelatory feature of all.
Hyperion’s sound never flinches from Osborne’s colossal bass in climaxes. Is it any wonder he dedicates the disc to ‘Bronwen Ackermann, physio extraordinaire’? Whatever the fallout, he must know that it was worth it: this is legendary stuff. Perceptive notes, too, by Christina Guillaumier.