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CD Review

Russian Recital

Jorge Federico Osorio, piano
Cedille CDR90000153 78:15
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In the recording studio Mexican-born pianist Jorge Federico Osorio has been generally associated both with music of Mexico and of the Austro-German sphere, particularly Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. I had heard him in some of his Beethoven concerto performances and found him quite compelling. For a pianist with his seemingly limited background in Russian music (recordings of the first concertos of Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky, and the Rachmaninov Paganini Rhapsody), one might be a little dubious about this disc. I was.

But when I heard the first movement of Osorio's Prokofiev Sixth Sonata, my doubts were mostly dispelled: he plays the main theme with a dynamic crispness and the right dose of muscle to convey its fatalistic character. Osorio delivers the alternate theme with less mystery and ethereality than is customary, but imparts a sense of restlessness and menace that gives the music an edginess and grit. The develop section is rendered with power and a feeling of desperation: when nearing the climax, it's as if you're heading over a cliff but then are miraculously saved. This is intense playing on an epic scale. The second movement is appropriately lighter and witty but still maintains tension beneath the surface. The third movement waltz is more passionate than elegant, more tortured than soothing, and more ominous than reassuring. The finale brims with tension throughout and ends powerfully and resolutely, with those spastic descending chords resounding a hard-won victory. This is a great performance to rank near the top of the many Prokofiev Sixths: it may not have the emotional range of Richter's, the color of Boris Giltburg's (Orchid ORC100023) or the elegance of Cliburn's, but its propulsive and highly-charged character make it a standout on its own aggressive terms. As a sort of emotionally diametrical encore, Osorio delivers a lovely account of Romeo and Juliet Before Parting.

Osorio's Shostakovich is appropriately stately and somber in the Prelude and driven, anxious and finally crushing in the Fugue. The fugal portion is played with the same power and tension as much of the Prokofiev Sixth. Again, this is a thoroughly convincing performance. The Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition closes out this disc and is another success. The Promenade has the right mixture of the stately and celebratory, while the ensuing Gnomus develops a menacing and almost ominous sense that becomes deliciously threatening. Il vecchio castello is hauntingly atmospheric in its exoticism and lugubrious manner. Tuileries is playful and charming, but perhaps needs a little more delicacy. Osorio's Bydlo is powerfully effective in its bluster and grit, and his Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells paints a subtly vivid picture of the chicks dancing and chirping. Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle is equally effective in depicting the domineering demeanor of Goldenberg and the whining manner of his impoverished companion Schmuyle. Limoges – The Market Place is deftly rendered in its sense of hustle and bustle, but might have featured a tad more elegance or nuance in dynamics. Catacombae and Cum mortuis in lingua morta are effectively atmospheric in their somberness and darkness, but The Hut on Fowl's Legs may be a bit on the percussive side here, though the playing is still quite dramatic and colorful. Osorio offers one of the finest accounts of The Great Gate of Kiev: it begins grandly and proudly and grows more grandiose upon each reappearance of the main theme. Overall, Osorio's Pictures must be ranked among the finest accounts of this warhorse, at least in recent times. Some listeners – those who like lots of meat on the bone – may even consider this a worthy challenger to Richter's live 1958 Sofia performance. Cedille's sound reproduction is excellent and the notes are very informative. Recommended.

Copyright © 2015, Robert Cummings