Classical: It'll all end in `Chopsticks'

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The Independent Culture




THERE'S NO telling how Steven Osborne will end a piano recital. On Saturday night it was with "Chopsticks", played backwards and in four keys. That didn't take very long, but he'd already given three encores - his own magical version of Liadov's "A Musical Snuffbox", an exquisitely bluesy paraphrase of Gershwin's "Second Prelude", and a more extended jazz improvisation, in which Osborne wittily searched for the appropriate thing to put over a halting ostinato and eventually came out of it with colours flying.

Osborne's flair as an improviser not only delights his audiences, it also seems to inform his playing of the classical repertoire. So that two of Beethoven's most popular Sonatas, the "Pathetique" and the "Moonlight", were refreshed by a combination of emotional restraint and warmth. The slow middle movement of the "Pathetique" and the slow opening movement of the "Moonlight" were flowing and sensitive, while the allegretto of the "Moonlight" was positively chirpy.

Between them, Osborne played Charles Ives's Three Page Sonata with disarming exuberance, and spun its mesmerising central section with rapt concentration and listening quality that suggested he was creating the music on the spot.

That illusion of discovery lit up Debussy's first book of "Preludes", too. The fiercer, darker aspects of "Le vent dans la plaine" and the terror of "Ce qu'a vu le vent d'Ouest" were not stressed, but they were still strongly played, and if "Des pas sur la neige" was not as desolate as it can be, it was beautifully melancholy. "Voiles" was exquisitely suspended in a languorous heat haze, "La serenade interrompue" was delightfully humorous and "La danse de Puck" was impish and seductive.

I find more music in the 10 minutes of Ives's Three Page Sonata than in the 50 of his prolix "Concord" Sonata, however exalted the later work's reputation. In the Park Lane Group's Young Artists series at the Purcell Room on Thursday, Mark Kruger played it with exceptional assurance. If there was fault to find, it was that Kruger's composure seemed like coolness. Yet, while the South Bank's Bosendorfer limited the power and percussive impact he might have achieved on a Steinway, his finesse and control were some reward in themselves.