ALBUM TITLE: Schubert
WORKS: Impromptus, D935; Piano Pieces, D946; Variations on a theme by Anselm Hüttenbrenner, D576
PERFORMER: Steven Osborne (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 68107
Steven Osborne is perhaps the outstanding British pianist of his generation, certainly one of the most versatile and adventurous. Recently he seems to have moved into the more conventional Classical repertoire of the Viennese ‘first school’, and on this disc he plays some of Schubert’s most familiar late works, together with the rarely performed Variations on a Theme by Hüttenbrenner, the friend and wretch who was so pathologically possessive that he kept the manuscript of the unfinished Eighth Symphony under wraps until 1865, 37 years after Schubert’s death.
Schubert’s 13 variations on the paltry theme are not especially interesting. But the second set of Impromptus and the Three Pieces D946 are among his keyboard masterpieces, showing the rapid changes of mood of his later works. Osborne plays them with intensity, perhaps a bit too sternly. Charm is not really his thing, but as a demonstration of the scale and immense fertility of Schubert’s last months these performances rank with the finest. Where Osborne excels is in his grasp of structure – if anyone remains who thinks that Schubert just rambles delightfully on, these accounts should lead to a rapid change of mind; and in coping effortlessly with Schubert’s unhelpfully awkward leaps which have led Mitusko Uchida to claim that he is the most difficult of all composers to play. Michael Tanner