Music review: Steven Osborne, St Mary's Church, Haddington

IN MANY ways, this late-night piano recital from Steven Osborne encapsulated what the Lammermuir Festival is all about: a remarkable venue - St Mary's Church in Haddington '“ whose acoustic was gloriously exploited; a world-class artist sharing their personal passions; and a provocative programme '“ piano music by US experimentalists Morton Feldman and George Crumb '“ that you'd be hard pushed to find elsewhere among Scotland's concert offerings.

Steven Osborne

Steven Osborne *****

St Mary’s Church, Haddington

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It was a wonderfully intimate, atmospheric evening, with the audience clustered around Osborne’s piano, the sole spot of light in the darkened interior of St Mary’s. In his informal introduction, Osborne revealed his own affection for this sometimes elusive music, and helpfully advised newbies that if it seemed like nothing much was happening – well, that was probably about right.

But he dispatched the gently chiming harmonies of Feldman’s extremely quiet music with exquisite care, and an uncanny sense of the grit of the music’s sounds – often approaching silence, but articulated and balanced with remarkable nuances. Best of all was Palais de Mari, Feldman’s final piano work and Osborne’s 25-minute closer, drawing steely focus across its hypnotic not-quite-repetitions.

Providing contrast were two picture-painting works by George Crumb, the thunderous Processional and the delicate sonic musings of the Little Suite for Christmas AD1979, where Osborne took just as much care in caressing, thumping and plucking the piano’s strings as he did in the work’s raucous evocations of bells or piping shepherds on the keyboard.

It was breathtakingly beautiful, but also brave and important, for taking this magical music out of the esoteric confines of a contemporary music event and placing it centre-stage. A deeply rewarding, fulfilling evening.