MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition; PROKOFIEV Sarcasms
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 degenerates 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.