In his essay on Schubert's final piano sonatas, Alfred Brendel said the B flat major had "graceful resolution", "playful vigour", "stubborn pugnacity" and an "ironic twinkle" - and that’s just the final movement!
In this sonata we have all the seasons in one day. It starts heavily overcast with the threat of thunder (that ominous grumbling bass), the black clouds occasionally penetrated by dazzling shafts of sunshine, interrupted by a hailstorm and ending in a benedictory rainbow.
Steven Osborne delineated every change of mood without sacrificing structural coherence. The andante’s opening was so enervated that it barely trudged, music as bleak as anything in the icy wastes of Winterreise.
The movement’s journey from world-weary desolation to hard-won resolution took only minutes but had epic proportions; such was the intensity of Osborne’s playing.
I’ve seldom heard Beethoven’s “ed appassionato” direction for the first movement of Op.111 – his final piano sonata – fulfilled as convincingly as it was here.
The vehemence of Osborne’s attack was acute but it made the switch to the arietta’s serene opening startling – which Beethoven surely intended it to be – as was the lively syncopated variation which sounds like jazz stride piano a century ahead of its time.
Beethoven thought his Eleven Bagatelles Op. 119 “trifles” but Osborne lavished care on them – each chip from the composer’s work-bench was set and framed lovingly.
This was Beethoven at his most relaxed, often carefree and humorous as in the second bagatelle’s comic high-and-low dialogue with both parts played by the left hand.