Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonata in A major, D. 959 (1828) [39:91]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Seven Fantasies, Op. 116 (1892) [21:53]
Three Intermezzos, Op. 117 (1892) [15:30]
Six Piano Pieces, Op. 118 (1893) [22:52]
Four Piano Pieces, Op. 119 (1893) [14:59]
Sonata in B-flat major, D960 (1728) [41:13]
Jorge Federico Osorio (piano)
rec. 2016, Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago
ÇEDILLE RECORDS CDR90000171 [2 CDs: 156:26]
Award-winning Mexican pianist Jorge Federico Osorio is the veteran of numerous recordings, covering repertoire that ranges from Latin American composers to chamber music by Brahms and unusual concertos like that of Jacob Weinberg. The repertoire on this Final Thoughts collection puts him into direct comparison with innumerable renowned performers, but even the brief snippets audible on the YouTube promo make one anticipate something rather special.
That ‘flowing’ nature of Schubert’s Sonata D. 959 is something that sounds very natural and expressive in Osorio’s hands. He doesn’t shy away from the drama in the first movement, but even as the storm-clouds gather and threaten there is a sense of line and shape that connects with the gentler sections. Perfect balance in voicing works its magic here, as it does in the utter simplicity that opens the second movement. The stormy middle section of this Andantino builds nicely, adding unexpected elements one upon the other like Beethoven’s ‘pastoral’ symphony until we are in the middle of a genuine typhoon. The transition back to tranquillity is done superbly, with time being stretched somehow without the feel of actual rubato in the romantic sense. The Scherzo sparkles like a fountain, cascading and spouting bursts of joy all over the place, while the easy melodic grace of the final Rondo is less relaxed and urbane, than crisp and alive with restless energy, propelling us towards the unknown and shaking off those pretty garlands and fronds, as there are more important things afoot…
Having Brahms’s four last piano opus numbers in one place as we find here means having a big chunk of his best work for this instrument in your pocket, which has to be a good thing. Osorio’s Op. 116/1 launches almost like a declaration of war, as if music can be thrown up like a shield or rampart against enemy forces. While not lacking sensitivity, Osorio’s harder edge is kept up somewhat in the minor-key Op. 116/2, whose rising but strangely isolated phrases imitate some unknown but deeply regretful poetry. Op. 116/3 has its heroic side, but that sense of plangent reflection is never entirely dismissed. Op. 116/4 with its strange hesitations is less edgy here than from some others, the pedal joining up Brahms’s writing to generate a gentle and reflective musical poem. Op. 116/5 is suitably ghostly, a ballroom charm gathering itself together from strange fragments and then withdrawing into the night. Osorio keeps power in reserve for that chorale-like opening of Op. 116/6, giving subtle shading to its reprise and superb form to the more rhapsodic second section. Dark wildness has been held back for Op. 116/7, which has symphonic force here, like one of Brahms’s orchestral variations.
There is a beauty in Brahms’s Op. 117 set of Three Intermezzos that keeps bringing us back, and this is a recording that will have you falling in love with them all over again. This is melancholy, but channelled into the creation of three gorgeous pieces that entirely side-step bitterness or anger in old age. Osorio’s touch here is pearlescent: lyrical without too much sweetness, and gentle without weakness of tone.
CD 2 takes us to the more turbulent opening of the Six Piano Pieces Op. 118, the sonorities of which are handled by Osorio like a master sculptor. Op. 118/2 is a masterclass in expression, the moulding of rubato barely noticeable, but just enough to make each point land as if pre-ordained. The Ballade Op. 118/3 is one of the few openings where we hear a kind of violence, perhaps the spirit of the Tango injecting an extra drop of spicy passion. Osorio doesn’t add complications where simplicity is indicated, and the Romance Op. 118/5 becomes the uniting of church-like devotion in its first section, and sensual pleasure beyond. I hear a Shostakovian pre-echo in the theme of Op. 118/6 that I hadn’t noticed before; proof that there are always new things to discover.
The Four Piano Pieces Op. 119 have a more astringent feel, particularly in the close-knit harmonies of Op. 119/1, Osorio giving hints of Debussy-like impressionism without losing the spirit of the actual composer. The repetitions of Op. 119/2 suggest Schumann, and Osorio gives this a suitably nervous and agitated feel that relaxes into that lovely Ländler, a release from those earthly stresses that we can never entirely free ourselves while alive. Osorio gives heightened articulation and accents in Op. 119/3, giving the piece weight and significance where it can easily become a throwaway dance, the final Rhapsody given a theatrical and valedictory feel, a rousing curtain-closer full of surprises that leaves our impression of Brahms’s genius in no doubt.
All of this excellent stuff makes the anticipation of a good Schubert Sonata D. 960 very strong, and I for one was not disappointed. Osorio takes the first movement at a respectable pace, using the Molto moderato marking as a platform for an unfolding and rather urgent drama rather than a place for endless reflection. Rather than feeling cheated, this comes across as quite a refreshing view on this magical movement. Osorio allows the music its breadth and breath, but with convincing light and shade manages to convey its huge expressive range while bravely pushing onwards. The Andante sostenuto is deep and reflective, again without allowing the waters to become entirely still, but filled with unmistakable human feeling – a lament, rather than a celestial crisis. The motor of the central section takes a moment to slot into its rhythm, a way of smoothing the transition between disparate elements that makes us feel as if the second is looking down on the first and transmitting a message of encouragement. The Scherzo is a fragrant and playful relief, Osorio keeping a vital and swift dance pace and following the con delicatezza indication without losing character – a dance for the mind rather than the body. The final Allegro ma non troppo balances impish gracefulness and impetuosity of momentum with great refinement, pitching is forward in a masterful race to the end while making the ride something in which to revel.
I usually drag out a few alternative CDs when looking at this kind of oft-recorded repertoire, but in this case I’ve found myself enjoying the experience so much that, in this instance, I think just a firm recommendation is in order. The recorded sound is excellent for this release, and the informative booklet notes by Andrea Lamoreaux make for a good read. You will know from your own collection if you feel the need to add these Schubert and Brahms ‘Final Thoughts’, but even if you already have favourites I have a strong feeling this recording will challenge and compliment many of them, and as a programme concept this works very well indeed.