Classical review: Perth Piano Sundays: Stephen Osborne

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IF YESTERDAY afternoon’s opening concert in the Perth Piano Sundays was anything to go by, this series looks certain to live up to expectations.

Perth Concert Hall

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Moreover, Steven Osborne, in his all-Beethoven recital, set the bar mesmerisingly high, with performances that, though they may not always have seen him at his most pinpoint accurate, possessed a musicality that was thoroughly probing and illuminating.

The programme was a piece of architectural mastery: two magnificent sonatas – the Waldstein and the late C minor, Op111 – prefaced in each case by the Op33 and Op119 sets of Bagatelles.

In the earlier set, Osborne set out his stall with playing that, quite simply, found its way deep into the mind of Beethoven. The subtlety and imagination of the sonorities; dramatic twists amplified by Osborne’s electrifying shock treatment; and a clarity of melodic line; all of which served – along with the teasing thematic pre-echoes of the Waldstein in the final Bagatelle – as an emotionally powerful preparation for the sonata.

Indeed, both sonatas in this programme were moments to die for. Osborne’s Waldstein had a symphonic completeness about it, its themes loaded with personality, the aching timelessness at the start of the second movement one of those moments you felt there really is a heaven.

That same sublime unearthliness, after the nuclear explosiveness of the Op.119 Bagatelles, informed the later sonata, not least that magical moment at the end where Osborne’s intuitive musicianship made the piano sound like an ethereal vibraphone. Utter magic.