Impromptus (4) for piano, D. 935 (Op. posth. 142)
Pieces (3) for piano (impromptus), D. 946
- Variations (13) on a Theme by Anselm Hüttenbrunner, for piano in A minor, D. 576 (14:20)
The Scots pianist Steven Osborne has cultivated a restrained style in which he strives not to insert himself between listener and music. He has not recorded much Schubert, although about five years before the 2015 release of the present album he did play an album's worth of duo piano music with Paul Lewis. How you'll react to this solo album may depend on how you feel about extremely self-effacing readings of Schubert. You can make the argument that the dimensions are historically right: the piano pieces on this album were written for small audiences of connoisseurs who did not need to be led through the music by the artist. You'll further note that Osborne is a technically gifted player, capable of exceptional clarity that reveals fine shades of expression. And it's good to see a program that avoids the tried-and-true pairing of the two sets of impromptus in favor of lesser-known music: the superb and underplayed "Three Piano Pieces, D. 946," late works that are essentially impromptus; and the earlier and less significant, but also quite neglected, "Variations on a Theme by Anselm Hüttenbrenner, D. 576." These variations riff on the rhythm of the slow movement of Beethoven's "Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92," as used in a string quartet by Schubert's friend Hüttenbrenner, and they contain some fine examples of the young Schubert's experimentally minded harmonies. It's all fine, and it all accomplishes its aims, but especially in the "Three Piano Pieces," you may find yourself wishing for more poetry than you'll find here. Sampling online should determine which camp you fall into when it comes to this release.