Russian Recital (CD review)

Jorge Federico Osorio, piano. Cedille CDR 90000 153.

Jorge Federico Osorio is a virtuoso pianist of international repute, with any number of fine recordings to his credit. Although he has released discs for Vox, ASV, Regis, O.M., Artek, EMI, and others, lately he's been recording for Cedille. In my experience listening to the man's performances, he has never demonstrated anything but sensitive, committed playing. He continues that tradition here, performing four Russian pieces by Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Mussorgsky.

The first item on Osorio's program is the Piano Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op. 82, by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953). One of the composer's "war sonatas" because he wrote it near the beginning of the Second World War, the piece displays an uncommon belligerence, at one point Prokofiev instructing the pianist to strike the keyboard with his fist. The work's four movements have an inevitability about their forward momentum, and Osorio nicely conveys that sense of continual motion and power. He punctuates everything with a kind of nervous energy that heightens the violence of the mood. Still, when it comes to the third-movement waltz, Osorio takes it softly and slowly, emphasizing the melancholy of the music, the degree of human suffering that war produces. Then it's back to that nervous energy again in the finale, where Osorio accents every note with an urgency of feeling and imagination.

Next is "Romeo and Juliet Before Parting" from Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75. The ballet music couldn't be more different from the sonata in mood, so it makes a fine contrast. More important, Osorio plays it with a comfortable longing. It's beautiful, moving music, played beautifully and movingly.

After that is the Prelude and Fugue No. 24 in D minor by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1957). These tunes were the composer's homage to Bach, with nods to Chopin and Debussy. They are a brief collection of descriptive musical episodes based in part on Russian folk tunes. Osorio's wide-ranging performance easily encompasses the varied passions of the numbers, connecting the dots efficiently as he goes along and unifying what can sometimes sound like a merely eclectic and disconnected set of parts.

Jorge Federico Osorio
Concluding the program, we find the real highlight: the original piano version of Pictures at an Exhibition, subtitled "A Remembrance of Viktor Hartmann," by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881). It is, of course, a suite of "pictures," tone poems, based on drawings and watercolors by the artist and architect Viktor Hartmann. Although the world probably knows the several orchestral versions of the work better than the piano version, the piano version holds its own pretty well, especially when played as expressively as Osorio plays it.

One needs to understand going in, however, that Osorio's walk through the gallery is not so much a leisurely stroll as it is almost a sprint. In other words, he takes the "promenades" at a fairly brisk pace. But, fortunately, when it comes to the actual "pictures," he slows down to contemplate each piece and does a pretty good job with their characterizations. While perhaps the clarity of Osorio's vision (and playing) is a trifle too astringent at times for a full appreciation of every nuance Mussorgsky intends, it does add to the vividness of each scene. "The Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shells" is especially persuasive, as are "Bydlo" and "The Catacombs." I found "The Marketplace," though, a little too busy. As for the big finish, "The Hut on Fowl's Legs" and "The Great Gate of Kiev," Osorio does them up pretty well, even though I longed for a bit more excitement and grandness in these closing pages, which Osorio unexpectedly takes at a slightly less lively gait than he provided at the start. Nevertheless, he captures much of their color, and that's what matters most.

What else do we need to know about the sound except that Bill Maylone engineered it? OK, it's a Cedille release, produced by James Ginsburg, and Maylone did the sound. That combination automatically makes it a good recording. The sound comes through with the kind of crystalline clarity that only a good piano in an acoustically desirable room can provide. While there is a mild ambient bloom present, the overall impression one gets is of utmost transparency, with quick transients and strong impact on the keys. Maylone has miked the instrument at a modest distance, so the piano is neither too large nor too distant. The listener is close enough to enjoy the full force of the piano yet far enough way for the instrument to take on a sweet, resonant bloom.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa