finale that throws down the gauntlet to the most intrepid of piano tigers (Feinberg was himself from Odessa, cradle of so many of that breed). After that, the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Sonatas are a mite less extravagant but still determined to cultivate exotic new varieties in their respective steamingly chromatic hothouses.
Hamelin does far more than tame these pianistic leviathans. He gives them momentum, character and individuality. As it happens, Samaltanos and Sirodeau have little or nothing to fear from the comparison. All three pianists have plenty of aces up their sleeves, and if Hamelin has some extra trump cards in terms of sheer bite, finesse and imaginative pedalling, then the BIS pair still offer a very personal reaction to Feinberg’s mysticism and craziness. So might the recording quality prove a deciding factor? No, because both are fine, while at times in both the piano is audibly – and wholly understandably – under strain in the top octave. The two issues also have equally informative, indeed usefully complementary booklet notes. So it’s time to dust off that most annoying of clichés: you really need both, not least because Hamelin reinstates the original manuscript version of the first two movements of the Third Sonata. David Fanning Comparative version: Samaltanos, Sirodeau (BIS) BIS-CD1414
Prokofiev Piano Sonatas – No 6, Op 82; No 7, Op 83; No 8, Op 84 Steven Osborne pf Hyperion F CDA68298 (74’ • DDD)
Steven Osborne’s assured mastery in a wide range of repertoire continues to expand and amaze. At first hearing, the pianist seems to be imparting a fresh spin to these frequently recorded sonatas. Closer scrutiny, however, reveals the extent to which Osborne takes Prokofiev’s texts seriously. His attention to accents and careful textural layering brings refreshing lightness and mobility to the frequently hammered-out repeated notes in the più mosso section of the Sixth Sonata’s Allegro moderato, while the Allegretto’s steady staccato chords take on the character of a finely honed woodwind ensemble. Listeners accustomed to Sviatoslav Richter’s lilting third-
movement tempo might find Osborne’s more inward yet eloquently sustained reading comparatively slow, yet Prokofiev himself marks lentissimo. Osborne tellingly characterises the finale’s emotional contrasts and observes the composer’s gradual acceleration to tempo when the main theme returns, unlike Richter, who simply forges ahead.
The outer sections of the Seventh Sonata’s Allegro inquieto take on a driving, slightly aggressive tone on account of Osborne’s avoidance of legato where Prokofiev doesn’t indicate it, yet I prefer Pollini’s faster flexibility and variety of articulation. Despite its breathtaking rapidity, Osborne’s Precipitato is musical to the core, where melodic phrase-shaping takes precedence over motoric momentum. Yet the same can be said for a more viscerally engaging recording on the Dux label from the relatively unknown Wojciech Kocyan, who gives one of the most inspired and imaginative versions on disc.
Osborne is at his best in Sonata No 8. He holds attention in the long and difficult-to-sustain first movement through his meticulous organisation of dynamics and gauging of climaxes. The central Andante sognando can absorb Osborne’s affectionate yet never indulgent lyrical inflections (Gilels and Bronfman are more straightforward and businesslike); in this sense he’s a slower Ashkenazy. However, no pianist in my experience has matched Osborne’s finale for acuity of touch, pinpoint transparency and airborne suppleness. The music dances off the page, tickles the ear, engages the mind and, for once, sounds far shorter than its nine-minute duration. In addition to Hyperion’s sound at its finest, Christina Guillaumier’s booklet notes provide valuable historic and analytical contexts for all three works. Jed Distler Sonata No 7 – selected comparison: Kocyan (3/08) (DUX) DUX0389
Ravel . Stravinsky Ravel Miroirs. La valse Stravinsky Three Movements from Petrushka. The Firebird (transcr Agosti) – Danse infernale; Berceuse; Finale Beatrice Rana pf Warner Classics F 9029 54110-9 (72’ • DDD)
Since her silver medal at the 2013 Van Cliburn Competition, I’ve followed the career of Beatrice Rana with great interest. When introducing friends who aren’t musicians to her recordings, I usually mention a couple of things. Rana, who is the daughter of two professional pianists, tells the story that, when she was very young, it was easier for her to communicate with the piano than with speech. She is as authentic as they come and plays everything, be it the Goldberg Variations or the Prokofiev Second, as though nothing in the world could be more important. Rana’s new Warner release, recorded in June and September of this year, beautifully captures pre‑war Paris with Ravel’s Miroirs and two of Stravinsky’s ballets for Diaghilev, with La valse thrown in as a post-war snapshot.
Though we had a taste of Rana’s Ravel in Gaspard de la nuit on her first recording after the Cliburn (Harmonia Mundi, 2/14), the pieces here underscore the originality of her approach to the composer. Her seemingly infinite variety of touch, particularly at the quiet end of the dynamic spectrum, stands her in good stead, say, with a piece such as ‘Noctuelles’, where acutely differentiated levels of pianissimo make it difficult to distinguish the protean flight of the moths from the dust in their wake. Rana communicates her musical imagery with an ease and economy that belies its power. The heat in ‘Oiseaux tristes’ is almost palpable, muting the birds’ song as it wilts the entire landscape. Even a threadbare warhorse such as ‘Alborada del gracioso’ emerges freshly vibrant with a blend of uncommon harmonic emphases and kinetic vitality.
As evocative as the Ravel pieces undoubtedly are, the two Stravinsky ballet transcriptions belong in a category that can only be described as conjury. When all is said and done, you may ask yourself, as I did, where did these brilliant colours evoking Bakst come from, this protean energy punctuated by such rhythmic authority, these reserves of power? Or perhaps find yourself pulling out your Monteux or Boulez to see if the orchestral originals could really sound so prosaic in comparison.
There’s no question that Rana is an immensely resourceful pianist who can pull off dazzling effects when warranted. But it is her sane, thoughtful musicmaking, inerrant in focus, often strikingly original and always from the heart, that sets her apart. Not many 26-year-olds in my experience can boast artistry so satisfyingly complete. Patrick Rucker
32 GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2020