Latvian piano virtuoso Andrejs Osokins makes a powerful impression in Romantic Music.

Andrejs Osokins, Pianist = BACH: WTC, I: Prelude No. 8 in e-flat minor, BWV 853; Fugue in d-sharp minor, BWV 853; HAYDN: Piano Sonata No. 53 in e minor; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 23 in f minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata”; RAVEL: Gaspard de la Nuit: Scarbo; LISZT: Annees de perelinage, II: Italy: Sonetto 104 del Petrarca; Apres une lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi fantasia – Andrejs Osokins, piano – International Piano Forum, 75:00 [] ****:

Latvian pianist Andrejs Osokins (b. 1984) presents a program (rec. live 27 November 2015 at Kursaal Bad Cannstatt) that reflects his penchant for introspective, impassioned scores that here traverse the periods from the Baroque to the late Romantic. The Bach prelude – and its enharmonic fugue – set the tone for plaintive, arioso melancholy that will often reveal itself in other composers’ sensibilities. The resonant bass of Osokins’ Bechstein instrument enunciates low, chromatic threads of the Fugue in d-sharp, whose voices enter and lie upon each other in the manner of a sad motet. Later, the individual notes of the upper voice assume the character of a hopeful chorale.

Conceived in the early 1780’s, the Haydn Sonata in e clearly means to find realization on the relatively new piano-forte, rather than upon the harpsichord. The opening Presto asks for both hands to veer away from the quick D-flat to G Major, so to gravitate fleetly and inexorably, to the e minor tonality. The Adagio proffers an ornamental arioso, long-lined and rife with pert harmonizations at the ends of phrases. A series of trills and silences leads seamlessly to the Molto vivace finale, set in the minor key with bouncy, fanciful variants on the original, eight-bar phrase. Clarity and spicy articulation from Osokins mark this reading, which serves as a potent, Italianate contrast to the monumental sonata by Beethoven.

Osokins has none but impressive rivals in the music of Beethoven, so he must establish his own voice in the 1805 Appassionata, the most Neapolitan of the Beethoven sonatas. Osokins plays the work’s opening Allegro assai with a tempered marcato, basking in the vertical harmony that sets the main ingredients: the “fateful” rhythmic pulse, trill, chromatic runs, pedal points, and arioso melos. Having announced the melody over its ostinato and arpeggiated support, the tempo accelerates, and so does the dramatic tension. Admittedly, Osokins brings much introspection into his reading, as though Robert Schumann were at the keyboard. The last flurry of the “fate” motif truly cuts loose in a way that volcanically reminds us of what Richter could do here, except Osokins hits the low f’s, and the music fades away ppp.

The “improvisatory” theme of the ensuing Andante con moto in D-flat Major constantly gravitates to the D-flat, so the melodic tissue and harmonic syntax seem unnaturally confined. Still, as an exercise or toccata in matters of touch and dexterous fluency, this reading has a natural fluency and delicacy of affect. But this movement’s final cadence dissolves, and we find ourselves in the throes of the demonic Allegro ma non troppo finale, whose arpeggios and clashing staccato notes assume a symphonic dimension. If the music suggests some “oceanic” or tempestuous, natural phenomenon, we might look once more at Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind.” Osokins can find moments of exquisite delicacy even here among the driven Furies, who will have their final, apocalyptic say in the last, martial and torrential pages.

If the sheer virtuosic elements of Beethoven had not provided enough witness to Osokins’ nimble fingers, then the sinister character of Ravel’s 1908 Scarbo, the last movement of his musical reaction to poems of Aloysius Bertrand, here a demonic dwarf who finds realization in a technique as “transcendental” as anything in Liszt, polyrhythmic and polytonal, at once. Ravel wanted a piano piece as consummately virtuosic as his idol, Balakirev, had produced in his Islamey. Under Osokins’ hands, we have a kaleidoscopic exercise in punishing rhythms and beguiling colors, lurid, ephemeral, quicksilver in their mercurial madness. The music convulses in abject perversity of meter and accents, akin to Stravinsky in intention to thwart convention, but tailored to a classical conception of form, impressively played to rival our favorites from Argerich and Michelangeli.

The two Liszt pieces once more address Romantic polarity: the quest for purity in love, and for purity in extremis. Between 1838-1848 Liszt undertook a Glanzzeit, a time of world travel, particularly into Rousseau’s elevation of Nature as an instructor of the wise. If Switzerland offered ontological instruction, then Italy presented Liszt with cultural icons, of which Petrarch and Dante towered in the realm of high poetics. The 104th Sonnet admits to the polar emotions of love, its fire and ice, those same elements that inhabit Dante’s Inferno. The ardent rhetoric of the Sonetto finds a devoted adherent in Osokins, who bestows poetry and grandeur into the lofty melodic curves and scintillating and cascading octaves.  In the course of the Dante Sonata, we pass through lurid tritones and savage, inflamed discords to arrive, respectively, at those tormented by love – Francesca and Paolo – and those redeemed by agape, purist love, in the empyrean heights that F-sharp Major can yield.

Can we doubt after this recital that Maestro Osokins embodies the Romantic Artist?

—Gary Lemco