Tonight’s concert in Sheffield with Steven Osborne has been postponed. Please bear with us while we make the arrangements for a new date. Tickets will be automatically transferred and box office will be in touch with ticket holders. Thanks for your patience, and sorry for any disappointment.
BEETHOVEN Bagatelle in A Op.33 No.4 (3’)
SCHUBERT Piano Sonata No.20 in A D959 (40’)
RACHMANINOV Preludes Op.23 & Op. 32 (selection) (10’)
RACHMANINOV Études Tableaux (selection) (10’)
RACHMANINOV Sonata No.2 in B flat minor (24’)
Steven Osborne is one of the world’s most sought-after pianists, whose extraordinary musical depth has seen him in huge demand both on stage and in the recording studio, so it’s wonderful to welcome him back to Sheffield for what is sure to be a spectacular evening.
Steven will open with Beethoven at his most perfectly simple, before the poignant beauty of music by Schubert, with a work he composed near the end of his life. Finally, the evening is completed with three breathtaking examples of pulse-racing works for piano by Rachmaninov.
BEETHOVEN Ludwig Van, Bagatelle in A Op.33 No.4
Beethoven’s Bagatelles,Op.33, were first published in 1803 and they serve as a wonderful demonstration of his mastery of small forms. The A major Bagatelle, the fourth of the set, is a quiet, tender piece, its mood of calm entirely unruffled by drama. Though eminently Beethovenian in terms of its musical language, the serene feeling of this Bagatelle certainly seems to point the way forward to some of the music Schubert was to write more than two decades later.
SCHUBERT Franz, Piano Sonata No.20 in A D959
In May 1838, the Viennese firm of Diabelli published Schubert’s last three piano sonatas. Schubert had originally intended to dedicate this trilogy of sonatas to the pianist and composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel, but by the time they appeared in print Hummel, too, was dead and the publisher dedicated them instead to Robert Schumann, one of the most enthusiastic proponents of Schubert’s music. Schumann’s love of Schubert’s music had begun as a very private passion, as he wrote when reviewing the newly-published sonatas: ‘Time was when I spoke of Schubert reluctantly, and then only at night to the trees and the stars.’ In turn, Schumann’s great protégé Brahms wrote to his friend Adolf Schubring about Schubert, in words that could almost be a description of parts of Schubert’s A major Sonata in this concert: ‘Where else is there a genius like his, which soars with such boldness and certainty to the heavens, where we see the very greatest enthroned? He impresses me as a child of the gods who plays with Jove’s thunder and occasionally handles it in an unusual manner. But he plays in a region and a height which others cannot hope to attain.’
Composed in September 1828, two months before Schubert’s premature death, the A major Sonata opens with a noble first subject, soon contrasted with delicate triplets. Some typically adventurous harmonic excursions eventually arrive at the serene second subject. All this material is worked out in a spacious, unhurried sonata-form. The main theme of the slow movement (in F sharp minor) suggests a kind of cradle song, interrupted by a highly charged central passage full of dissonance and drama (pianist Alfred Brendel characterised it as ‘unease and horror’). The Schubert scholar Brian Newbould has written that in the delectable Scherzo, Schubert ‘uses the piano as percussionist and songster by turns’, while the finale combines elements of sonata form and rondo to create a sublime movement anchored by a gentle song-like main theme.
RACHMANINOV Sergei, Preludes Op.23 & Op.32
One of the greatest pianists of his age, Rachmaninov’s own compositions for solo piano ranged from shorter works including sets of Preludes and Études-tableaux, to much more grandly-conceived pieces, notable among them his two piano sonatas. The Preludes (Op.23 and 32) were composed between 1901 and 1910. Unlike Chopin’s Préludes, Rachmaninov’s two sets were not conceived as a whole, but even though it wasn’t his initial plan, Rachmaninov eventually mirrored Chopin (and Bach before him) by composing one prelude in each of the twenty-four keys.
RACHMANINOV Sergei, Études Tableaux
Rachmaninov’s conception of the form is more expansive than Chopin’s, with some preludes amounting to miniature tone-poems, but this tendency became more explicit in the two sets of Études-tableaux (Op.33 and 39), composed between 1911 and 1917. Reviewing an early performance, one Russian critic noted the stylistic evolution that can be detected in these works: ‘In the Études, Rachmaninov appears in a new light. The soft lyricist begins to employ more severe, concentrated and deepened modes of expression.’
RACHMANINOV Sergei, Sonata No.2 in B flat minor
Rachmaninov’s Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor was composed between January and August 1913, written simultaneously with his choral masterpiece The Bells. It was first published the following year but Rachmaninov was never entirely happy with the results and he made an extensive revision of the sonata in 1931, claiming that the original version was ‘too long’. Always ferociously self-critical, Rachmaninov’s 1931 revision has often been considered to be too drastic and pianists from Horowitz (with Rachmaninov’s blessing) to Steven Osborne in our own day have made performing editions which combine the best of both versions. The first movement, marked Allegro agitato, opens with a dramatic descent into despair, though this is by no means the only mood: one of the contrasting ideas is richly lyrical and the recapitulation is heralded by a glorious pealing of bells. The slow movement is a lilting intermezzo (with a more intense central section), while the Allegro molto finale brings the work to a thrilling and powerful close. The movements are played without a break and they are unified by thematic references which recur throughout the work.