Steven Osborne, RCS, Glasgow

Michael Tumelty

Five stars

THERE was a wonderful little scene on Friday afternoon at the end of pianist Steven Osborne’s recital in the RCS’s Stevenson Hall when, following the pianist’s beguiling then ravishing performances of music by Debussy and Rachmaninov, an encore was clearly in demand. “I’m going to offer you a choice,” quoth Osborne: “Either one by Debussy or one by Rachmaninov.” Ye gods I thought the roof was going to come off as the Russophiles bellowed “RACHMANINOV”, while the Francophiles, rather more demurely, called for the other chap. “Hold your horses,” hollered referee Osborne from centre-pitch, calling for a show of hands. Rachmaninov won the day, and the crowded house was rewarded with one of the composer’s lush, red-blooded and totally-seductive Preludes.

In fact the entire programme, with first a set of Debussy’s ultra-atmospheric and characterful pieces, from the gloriously-suggestive Masques to the dazzling, dance-infused l’isle joyeuse via the wondrously-impressionistic and luminous, nocturnal glow of the second set of Images, followed by a selection from both sets of Rachmaninov’s Etudes-Tableaux, worked intriguingly and mysteriously well.

Mysteriously? Well, yes. On paper it looks like an oil-and-water mix, or at least a pastel and oils brew. But listening closely, especially through Osborne’s playing, which finds definition in Debussy and evocative atmospheres in Rachmaninov, and the two composers do not seem incompatible, even though they speak different musical languages. In Osborne’s probing hands there seemed a kinship, however distant. He’s coupled them before, and feels they work well together, though he had no hard reason to explain why. The whole thing was fascinatingly-provocative of thought, as well as being a thrilling and engaging musical adventure.