MEDTNER Sonata Romantica RACHMANINOV Piano Sonata No 2
Steven Osborne is on a bit of a Russian odyssey at the moment. Now it’s the turn of two great pianist-composers. It must represent something of a coming of age when a record company starts to re record repertoire but these new performances make for fascinating comparisons.
In the two Skazki, Osborne absolutely nails the Rachmaninovian impulse of the first, and is more unbuttoned than Demidenko (at least until the climax) and more virtuoso than Hamish Milne. In the second, both Milne and Osborne point up its deep disquiet; the composer, primitively recorded, is by comparison less menacing. Osborne is equally at home in the Sonata romantica, a work completely at odds with its time, having been written in 1930. This is a reading that is taut, highly dramatic and virtuoso without being showy. Hamelin is perhaps a degree more insouciant in the playful finale but both readings are stunning.
It’s good to have a new recording of the Corelli Variations too. Compared to Pletnev, Osborne is less interventionist but, as with his recording of the Preludes (6/09), virtuosity is in plentiful supply when need be: he just doesn’t shout about it.
So what of the Second Sonata? This is Osborne’s own conflation of Rachmaninov’s two versions plus some borrowings from Horowitz’s composer-sanctioned version. Osborne justifies it as ‘a natural extension of the interpretative process’. So, does it convince? In a word, yes. What comes across most winningly is the ebb and flow of the work: the more inward passages are allowed to breathe; the extrovert ones are absolutely fiery. It’s not a work that could ever be summed up by a single interpretation: Horowitz is of course essential; so too, I would argue, is Kocsis. And the list could go on. But this is another terrific addition to the shelves, and if it helps the continuing rediscovery of Medtner, so much the better.