“It’s just one of my favourites,” says pianist Steven Osborne, who, for his contribution to the Scotsman Sessions, performs La vallée des cloches - the fifth and final piece of Ravel’s gorgeously scented 1905 piano suite Miroirs - from his Edinburgh New Town home. Here, Ravel conjures up the sound of distant tolling bells, a web of sonorous harmonies and ethereal melodies embraced within a silken Impressionist framework. “It’s one of the most beautiful, open-hearted things he ever wrote,” Osborne insists.
Like any globetrotting soloist, lockdown has been a mix of frustration and liberation for the 49-year-old Scot, who should have been completing his season as RSNO associate artist in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, and missed out on recent scheduled appearances at New York’s Lincoln Centre and Seattle.
On the other hand, he’s learnt how to tune a piano, streamed home performances with his clarinettist wife Jean, taught students in Chicago online, and enjoyed the odd takeaway from the local pub.
“Tuning the piano was an eye-opener,” he confesses. “My regular tuner sent me some tools and talked me through the process.” Did he glean any trade secrets? “Yes, like tuning it sharp then banging on the keys to bring it down to pitch.”
No such crudeness in the mesmerising subtleties Osborne elicits in this softly intense interpretation of the Ravel. “It’s full of surprises,’ he says. “Like that melody in the middle that seems to appear out of nowhere. There’s an extraordinary melancholy about this piece.”
Osborne’s own spirits are about to resume flight: the Swiss festival he was scheduled to appear at in September looks set to go ahead, and before that he is scheduled to feature in one of four live BBC broadcasts this week from Glasgow’s City Halls, playing an all-Schubert programme. “Even though it’s to an empty hall,” he says, “knowing that people are listening will be fantastic.”
Steven Osborne performs live on BBC Radio 3 on 15 July at 1pm.
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