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Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Prokofiev: Visions Fugitives, Sarcasms / Steven Osborne

Mussorgsky / Prokofiev / Osborne
Release Date: 02/12/2013 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67896   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Modest MussorgskySergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Steven Osborne
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 6 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Each new Steven Osborne release seems to guarantee world-class pianism, intelligent musicianship, and interpretations that never take composers for granted. And that’s precisely what this Russian recital delivers. Osborne begins Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition (note that Osborne translates the title more truthfully than the less accurate yet universally accepted “Pictures at an Exhibition”) with an unusually brisk and forthright Promenade. In Gnomus, Osborne manages to make the low-lying trills both melodic and menacing, and, unlike most pianists, does not rush the upbeat C-flat leading into the final velocissimo outburst. An unwavering G-sharp bass ostinato lilts gently yet maintains a
Read more strong, anchoring presence throughout Osborne’s beautifully sustained account of The Old Castle. The pianist effects characterful contrasts in Tuileries by playing the outer sections in fairly strict tempo and shaping the central episode with whimsical, tasteful modifications of the basic pulse. He roughens up Bydlo’s churning left-hand chords so that they’re as much in the forefront as the ominous main melody, thereby helping to justify an unusually slow tempo. Likewise, the quicker, lighter Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks stands out by virtue of Osborne’s uncommonly present left hand and distinct articulation.

If the repeated notes in the Two Polish Jews movement are slightly understated, the rhetorical opening theme is more than sufficiently foreboding. Osborne rightly resists the temptation to hustle his way through the Limoges marketplace, opting for a tempo that allows the rapid left-hand chords equal say in relation to the right-hand melody, and also lets you hear the coda’s broken chords build to a climax that’s not frenetic or pounded out. In Con mortuis in lingua mortua, Osborne plays the right-hand tremolos with a kind of disembodied restraint that provides an appropriately eerie backdrop to the left hand’s chorale-like chords. Lastly, Osborne follows an incisive, sharply accented Baba Yaga with a broader than usual yet cumulatively radiant Great Gate at Kiev. Some listeners might prefer a brighter, more scintillating approach here (Ashkenazy, Richter, Berman), yet Osborne’s un-self-regarding grandeur grows on you.

In Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives, Osborne is stricter with regard to Prokofiev’s dynamics, tempos, and articulations than Evgeny Koroliov, Nikolai Demedenko, and Olli Mustonen, yet proves more nuanced and less predictable. For example, while many pianists phrase No. 6 with relatively foursquare scansion, Osborne’s less conventional accentuation shifts the melodic emphasis; in addition, Osborne resists toying around with No. 11’s decorative flourishes, and plays them in tempo but with carefully scaled and dramatically gauged dynamics. The early Op. 17 Sarcasms also deserve admiration for Osborne’s marked dynamic contrasts and his ability to play the music’s aggressive, motoric qualities to the hilt while giving judicious attention to the moments of lyrical respite. David Fanning’s annotations give welcome and useful historical contexts for each of the works, and Hyperion’s engineering reflects the label’s usual high standards. A most rewarding release; highly recommended.

– Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com

After his disc of Rachmaninov’s 24 Preludes (6/09), Steven Osborne moves into rougher Russian waters with Mussorgsky and Prokofiev. And here, once more, is an ideal blend of fidelity to the score with a subtle and distinctive rather than overbearing musical personality. In the Mussorgsky everything is as musicianly as it is technically immaculate. What tonal delicacy and translucency in ‘Tuileries’, and listen to his finesse in the tremolandos at the end of ‘Con mortuis in lingua mortua’, something barely audible and coming as it were from a great distance. Yet in the more weighty numbers (‘Bydlo’, ‘The Great Gate at Kiev’, etc), there is power without brutality so that what so easily degenerate into a mere uproar is so finely graded that you forget the essentially percussive nature of the writing.

In Prokofiev’s Sarcasms, too, there is a leavening of the composer’s violent and leering gesture against the Russian establishment but never at the expense of the title. Again, in the Visions fugitives there is the finest possible sense of ‘things flying past’ with a stunning reminder in the Feroce of No 14 of Osborne’s superb technique. Returning to the Mussorgsky (the chief offering in this recital), this may well be the most lucid and musicianly Pictures on record. Hyperion’s sound and presentation are beyond praise.

– Bryce Morrison, Gramophone Read less

Works on This Recording

Pictures at an Exhibition for Piano by Modest Mussorgsky
Performer:  Steven Osborne (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; Russia 
Visions fugitives (20) for Piano, Op. 22 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Steven Osborne (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915-1917; Russia 
Sarcasms (5) for Piano, Op. 17 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Steven Osborne (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912-1914; Russia 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  3 Customer Reviews )
 Wonderful Recording. March 6, 2014 By Anton N. (NORTHGATE, QLD) See All My Reviews "Stunning musicianship. Stunning sound." Report Abuse
 Perhaps... January 22, 2014 By C. Tolbert (APO, AE) See All My Reviews "Perhaps the previous reviewer has never heard the piano version. If you are only familiar with the Ravel orchestration, Mussorgsky's original piano version might come across as a bit frantic in places, but that's one reason it's so fantastic. I thought this performance was unique but not wild or far-out by any means." Report Abuse
 Mussorgsky would turn over in his grave January 10, 2014 By Paul Fitzgrerald (Lancaster, PA) See All My Reviews "The interpretation of this classic is so wild, I almost did not recognize it. Had I known this was so far-out, I would not have ordered it." Report Abuse
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