Final Thoughts: The Last Piano Works of BRAHMS and SCHUBERT = BRAHMS: Piano Pieces, Op. 116, 117, 118, 119; SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 959; Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960 – Jorge Federico Osorio, piano – Cedille CDR 9000 171 (2 CDs) 77:02; 79:24 (5/12/17) [Distr. by Naxos] ****
Jorge Federico Osorio invests an ardor of personal authenticity into the late works of Schubert and Brahms.
I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Mexican piano virtuoso Jorge Federico Osorio (b. 1951) in concert some years ago in San Jose’s Mexican Heritage Center, and I recall having been impressed with his magnificent technique, poise, and security in the repertory of his choice. In this ambitious album (rec. 27-30 June and 26 July 2016), Osorio approaches two composers in their maturity, although ascribing that term to youthful Franz Schubert, aged thirty-one, besets us with manifold ironies. The magnificent 1828 A Major Sonata, D. 959, for instance, combines an exalted lyricism with a breadth of interior turmoil, marked by circuitous harmonic ventures. Osorio plays the expansive first movement Allegro with a bright, forward motion, eschewing over-wrought dramatic ploys and padding so as to address directly the tensions inherent in its martial impulses and its secondary lied-motif in E Major.
But the real mystery emerges in the f-sharp minor Andantino, where the relative minor of A Major – as in Mozart’s K. 488 Concerto – dons a tragic mask that beguiles us at every hesitant step. Osorio coaxes quietly seductive intimacy from his Steinway, never forcing the affective power of the procession. The middle section of this ternary song resonates with Bach, a fiercely layered toccata that erupts into a chromatic fantasy of virile power. Osorio has its latter measures literally strum in the manner of cruel and beautiful guitar serenade, supported by passing storms in the bass. The return of the lovely, opening march-dirge has tears from the flames that touched its noble countenance. The succeeding Scherzo: Allegro vivace enjoys a richly colored yet chaste patina, touched lightly and traversing a number of deft modulations, virile in its plastic figures. The Rondo: Allegretto takes its main theme from an earlier Schubert sonata, here developed as a sonata-rondo a la Haydn. Osorio savors its richly textures, moving in shaded registers with liquid aplomb. The spontaneity of the playing the quick, mercurial melodic shifts on enharmonics soon assumes the excited proportions of a multi-faceted impromptu. The potent security of Osorio’s performance – captured in sterling sound by Engineer Bill Maylone – grants the mantle of Jorge Bolet to Senior Osorio.
The great B-flat Major Sonata (1828) of Schubert has had its expansive realizations before, especially from the hands of Sviatoslav Richter. Osorio takes a brisk approach to the opening Molto moderato, urging the music to resist the somber trill and broken octaves that serve to inject a theme of loss into a bucolic, spiritual landscape. Indeed, the movement asserts itself as a kind of conscious swan-song, determined to confront the forces of inevitable dissolution with illumined affirmations of faith, whether aesthetic or pantheistic. The appearance the main theme in the minor to set the course of the development section paints a surreal, siren’s song for Fate, much in the manner of Schubert’s classic lied, Death and the Maiden.
Among the most haunted of melodies informs the Andante sostenuto, which opens in a tragic c-sharp minor. Osorio assigns this music a sober dignity that verges on the edge of a tragic abyss, proffering grief and solace at once. Fleet finger mold the Scherzo: Allegro vivace con delicatezza into optimistic yet smoothly alert, even hypnotic, toccata in touch and rhythmic disjunctions. The last movement finds mirth in the course of its dramatic evolution, Osorio’s phrase lengths Apollinian and securely balanced. The music breaks off into a savage declamation but answers itself with a tripping series of runs that console us with luxuriously layered charm. Even in the concluding Presto section Osorio maintains the ubiquitous melodic thread that provides a cyclical closure to an inspired, ennobled masterpiece.
Brahms the composer of late, autumnal piano pieces (1891-1893) presents us with a master of musical and emotional compression, whose means of expression often anticipate aspects of the Second Viennese School. Whether conceived as “old bachelor music” or “lullabies of my sorrows,” these pieces in song-form give alternately lyrical and explosive vent to passions and nostalgic memories repressed for a long time. The music shifts rhythmically through a series of deft transformation in hemiola – viz. Op. 119, No. 2 in e minor – while the thumb often realizes a melody of tender melancholy. The pungent drama, say, in the g minor Ballade, Op. 118, No. 3 has rarely had so aggressive an interpreter, certainly more in sympathy with Chopin than we often hear it. The ensuing f minor Intermezzo opens with a dazzling speed, only to relent into sequential patterns that droop or vaunt their power in a manner close to the Beethoven bagatelles. The layered, oft polyphonic Romanze in F plaintively insists on its being “rainy day music” of the highest order, especially in the matter of Osorio’s moving trills. The e-flat minor Intermezzo possesses a dark, surreal and epic beauty, part Debussy, part stentorian Beethoven. If Glenn Gould illumined the morbid, pre-Webern capacities of Op. 119, No. 1, Osorio restores to the work its laconic innocence, its rapt song. Each auditor will seek his preferred miniature, but I always gravitate to the Kurt Weill-like Intermezzo in c-sharp minor, Op. 117, No. 3 as my quintessential Brahms moment of exalted pessimism. Alternately funereal and gossamer, Osorio’s version compels in its honest ardor and virile authority. This set will likely become a major reference point for these works in modern guise.