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Maurice Ravel: Gaspard de la nuit – Sonatine – Miroirs – La Valse – Le Tombeau de Couperin – Menuet in C sharp minor – Menuet antique – Sérénade grotesque – Jeux d’eau – Prélude – Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn – A la manière de Borodine – A la manière de Chabrier – Pavane pour une infante défunte – Valses nobles et sentimentales
Steven Osborne (Piano)
Recording: Henry Wood Hall, London (July 12-14 and September 12-14, 2010) – 142’ 57
Hyperion Records Ltd. #CDA67731/2 – Booklet in English, French and German

“Intellectual intricacies on blacks and whites” merely glosses the surface in describing the uncommon yet ironic achievements of Maurice Ravel. Strongly associated with the popular orchestrations of Boléro and Daphnis et Chloé, these often eclipse the arena of ivories that merit a worthy revisit. Perhaps no individual is better suited to tackle the Basque composer’s anthology than the reverent Steven Osborne.

Ever since he was a teenager, Osborne has been fixated on Ravel. His journey is similar to that of a marathoner: hours and hours of training, consistent pacing and unerring lessons of patience and determination. Why the infatuation? Ravel’s creations encompass a wide range of emotion, from pure joyfulness to somber lugubriousness. While Maurice Ravel was defined as a bad pianist, he was able to pen pieces of unbelievable complexity, rivaling those of Franz Liszt, for one. Steven Osborne is a marvel at the keyboard.

A member of Les Apaches, a ruffian gang of poets, artists and musicians, Ravel was well suited in this free-spirited environment. Although closely tied to the designs of Claude Debussy and the impressionist movement, both composers are characteristically different: Debussy being extemporaneous and loose and Ravel more rigid and methodical in approach. Nonetheless, a unique style and form exist in Maurice Ravel.

Works such as the prodigious Le Tombeau de Couperin, the sedate Pavane pour une infante défunte and a stately Menuet antique are calculated with creative confidence while the less familiar A la manière de Borodine and the tempered pluckiness of A la manière de Chabrier reflect Osborne’s softened modicum of musical respectability.

Gaspard de la nuit is challenging for any artist. Known for its heightened level of technical variations, Osborne breaks all barriers to interpret the three distinct movements with rarefied clarity: a sweeping arpeggio driven “Ondine”, followed by “Le Gibet”, demanding a consistent B-flat octave ostinato, and ending with the relentless acrobatic “Scarbo”. The aforementioned piece in particular demonstrates Steven Osborne’s translucent and delectable rendering of Ravel’s compelling score. On the same azimuth are his pyrotechnics surrounding the stimulating thematic visions of Miroirs and an ebullient yet satirical-spirited La Valse that soars beyond the clouds.

Steven Osborne will leave you in amazement, mindfully contemplating the proverbial question, “how can anyone play this music?” Fortunate enough, we now have the colorings of Maurice Ravel brilliantly captured.

Christie Grimstad




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