Steven Osborne

Music at Paxton

Paxton House, Berwickshire

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Four stars

Fresh of the plane that morning from a concert the previous night in Barcelona, Scottish pianist Steven Osborne opened 2017’s Music at Paxton festival on Friday night with a stirring recital of solo piano works by Rachmaninov, Brahms and Debussy. The ornate Picture Gallery, in the 18th Century neo-Palladian Paxton House, has once again been transformed into a visually stunning recital room for this annual chamber music festival. Osborne began with Brahms’ Three Intermezzi, playing the first of the set with a touching tenderness, before bringing a strong, measured build up of tension to the penultimate bars of the third.

Osborne’s verbal introductions to the pieces he played were thought out and thought provoking, giving insight not only to the music’s composition, but to his own understanding of the works. Playing both sets of Rachmaninov’s Etudes Tableaux on either side of the interval, his interpretation of these short ‘study-pictures’ was deep and colourful. He opened the second set with a ferocious velocity in the tumultuous first piece, then lent a glassy fluidity to the second, often dubbed ‘The Sea and the Seagulls.’ The 6th in the set bears the nickname ‘Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf’, and Osborne’s fiery, angry playing perfectly captured the terror the tale’s protagonist feels upon encountering the Big Bad Wolf.


At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Debussy’s serene prelude, La Cathédrale Engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral), was a sublime example of the composer’s fascination with visceral sonority. Osborne’s expert use of the sustain pedal let blurred harmonies linger, almost as an aura to the piece, giving an air of awe and reverence, beautifully evoking the mystical sense of hallowed halls.