WORKS: 24 Preludes
PERFORMER: Steven Osborne (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67700
While a number of Rachmaninov’s preludes are perennials in recital programmes, others show up with much less frequency, but Steven Osborne’s superb disc reveals the rewards to be had by listening to all 24 at a single sitting.
His imagination eloquently encompasses the music’s broad spectrum of expression. He brings fresh ears and insight to familiar preludes such as the C sharp minor, the B flat major, G minor and G sharp minor, and he approaches the structurally more perplexing and potentially diffuse E minor with a clarity that illuminates and strengthens its inner drama.
Vladimir Ashkenazy’s mid-1970s recording for Decca (475 8238) has long led the field in this repertoire, and nobody would want to be without it, but Osborne brings a captivating finesse and lucidity to Rachmaninov’s textures, as well as thinking himself into that equivocal world where melancholy and bliss, introspection and dynamism coalesce.
The juxtaposition of major and minor modes at the end of the B minor prelude encapsulates that ambiguity in just a few bars, but there are many other instances where Osborne’s playing hauntingly hovers between reflectiveness and rapture.
He also sees deep into the music’s inner layers. So often in these preludes, it is an idea running through the alto or tenor voice that carries a particularly poignant message, a trait that Osborne senses instinctively and conveys with subtle judgement of tonal perspective.
This is outstanding Rachmaninov playing of acute perception, discretion and poetic sensibility, limpid, powerful and luminous in equal measure. Geoffrey Norris