Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat major ("Hammerklavier"), Op. 106
- Allegro (09:41)
- Scherzo: Assai vivace - Presto (02:36)
- Adagio sostenuto, appassionato e con molto sentimento (17:07)
- Largo - Allegro - Allegro risoluto (11:21)
Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101
Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90
Steven Osborne has emerged as a major presence in standard 19th century piano repertory, and his Beethoven sonata releases on Hyperion have been much awaited. Osborne is of the British school, with control and smoothness prized over high drama, and it may take you a few minutes of listening to realize just how remarkable he is in sticking to those qualities in this particular program. Osborne fearlessly begins with the "Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat major, Op. 106 (Hammerklavier)," a work often treated as extreme or problematical. Osborne is having none of it. He takes fast tempos -- in the first movement close to Beethoven's perilous half note = 138 -- and keeps things impressively clear under this pressure. The slow movement, at 17 minutes plus, is not an icy hall of emotional death in Osborne's reading, but a kind of oversized nocturne, with the quintessentially late-Beethoven syncopations in the later phases growing naturally out of the texture. The brutal polyphony of the finale is again rendered as clearly here as you will find anywhere, and in the other two sonatas, the broadly lyrical "Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101," and the limpid yet mysterious "Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90," with its Mendelssohnian finale, clarity is again Osborne's watchword. He captures many of the small contrapuntal details that permeate these two sonatas and links these transitional works to the late period convincingly. If you like shake-your-fist-at-fate Beethoven you might find Osborne a bit flat, but this is a virtuoso performance in its own way, with fine sound from the Wyastone Estate concert hall.