“… Osorio gave one of those, ‘where have you been all my life performances’ under music director Manfred Honeck. …The Mexican pianist unveiled a luxurious tone capable of immeasurable variation”
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mexicans Prieto and Osorio impress with de Falla, Ravel and Nielsen in Dublin
By Andrew Larkin, November 11, 2017
If Mexican bandits are a frequent trope of the cinematic world, then it was a refreshing change to have two accomplished Mexican musicians take centre stage in tonight’s performance. Conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto and pianist Jorge Federico Osorio share a nationality but their physical differences are quite marked: the former’s tall, charismatic, showman-like presence towered over the slightly diffident, diminutive stature of the latter. Not that these differences impacted on their shared musical vision for the works of the first half.
The programming of Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and Maurice Ravel’s Piano concerto for the Left Hand made for a fascinating pairing of two impressionist composers of the early 20th century. Nielsen's Symphony no. 5 was arguably a more daring, meaty conclusion to a slightly more outré programme from previous Friday concerts and this was reflected in quite a few empty seats tonight.
Nights in the Gardens of Spain is, in the composer’s own words, a “set of symphonic impressions” for piano and orchestra. De Falla had left his native Spain for the cultural hotspot of Paris and, while he absorbed the impressionistic spirit of Debussy and Ravel of the time, he never lost that particular Spanish idiom that informs his works. The work is divided into three contrasting parts; the first, In the Generalife Gardens in Alhambra; the second a lively dance and the third, In the Gardens of the Sierra de Córdoba. Prieto elicited a diaphanous palette of colours from the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra to suggest this Spanish-Moorish world while Osorio’s rapid passagework and crisp articulation added to this effect. As Osorio’s arpeggios shimmered up and down the piano we were magnetically drawn into this highly evocative world full of lush sounds and sensuous possibilities. There was bite in the attack of the second movement Danza lejana while Prieto controlled the tension through some finely grade dynamics.
Piano pieces for the left hand alone are a rarity. Scribian and Godowsky spring to mind. Ravel’s was commissioned by the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein (brother of the philosopher) who lost his right arm in World War I. Through-composed in one movement, it’s filled with dark mutterings and all the classic Ravelian jazzy sounds that make up his earlier G major concerto. And it’s fiendishly difficult too because, despite its title, it does produce the effect of being for two hands.
Osorio proved his virtuosic metal right from the word go: leaping about the keyboard with all the nimbleness of a chamois goat, his left hand produced the extraordinary sensation of both melody and accompaniment at the same time. While the visual spectacle was utterly captivating, Osorio impressed very much in his finely graded melodic lines and his rhythmic drive. The NSO responded with great freshness to such musical exuberance. The wonderful cascading notes of the cadenza built up to a passionate and satisfying conclusion. An encore of Debussy’s La Cathédrale engloutie sated the audiences’ vigorous applause.
Considered his symphonic masterpiece, Nielsen’s Fifth is the perhaps the most enigmatic of his symphonies. Abandoning the standard four movement design, Nielsen elected for a two part structure, the first one a slow, if at times menacing, movement with the snare-drum’s constant interruptions, while the second is impetuous and energetic.
Prieto’s straightforward approach to this symphony worked well, delivering a taut, energetic account of this drama between good and evil. The snare-drummer is to be highly commended for what was a successful battering of his insistent, disruptive motif, even as the NSO tried to vanquish this hammering in a huge, powerful wave of sound. The off-stage drumming faded away atmospherically into nothing.
The swirling shifts in rhythm, momentum and drama of the second movement were impressively handled by Prieto as he energised the orchestra from start to finish. Equally impressively was the way in which each section responded: the thunderous and galumphing of the percussion, the full-bodied clarion call of the brass; the disturbing antiphonal exchange between violins and woodwind. And if the occasional trivial slip occurred, it did nothing to mar the power and excitement of such a performance.
Prieto, ever the showman, chatted to the audience and ended with a gutsy, vibrant account of fellow Mexican José Pablo Moncayo’s Huapango.
Final Thoughts - The Last Piano Works of Schubert & Brahms
Cedille Records CDR 90000 171
Issue Date: Sept/Oct 2017
Once a pianist reveals a high professional standard of performance—Jorge Federico Osorio meets this criterion from the first moment he starts to play Schubert’s posthumous A-Major Sonata, D 959—I ask myself, “Poet, personality, or powerhouse?” These are basic categories of pianists, and it takes no time to mark Osorio as a definite personality. He plays with extroverted flair and a strong desire to convey his enjoyment of the music. In terms of unalloyed listening pleasure, this lovely melding of the last keyboard works of Schubert and Brahms, which leads to the album’s title of Final Thoughts, can’t help but appeal. Osorio was born in Mexico City in 1951, and I felt that he shares some qualities with two esteemed South American pianists, namely, the natural musicality of Nelson Freire and the unabashed assurance of Martha Argerich.
It’s unusual for personality pianists to undertake works as enigmatic as Schubert’s last two sonatas and as melancholy as Brahms’s late sets of short character pieces. Both contain pitfalls, but of a different order from each other. Although the most outgoing of composers as a melodist, Schubert became an idiosyncratic harmonist as well as emotionally ambiguous the closer he approached his tragically early death. These two op. post. sonatas are now considered unarguable masterpieces, but there is no established performance tradition behind them the way there is, say, for middle-period Beethoven. Some pianists such as Rudolf Serkin play Schubert exactly like Beethoven; others such as Alfred Brendel are Classical-minded to the point of sounding Haydnesque; still others, such as András Schiff and Radu Lupu, are exquisitely (or maddeningly) detailed.
I’d say that Osorio’s Schubert is primarily an expression of instinctive musicality and outgoing emotions, which puts interpretative gestures second. As an interpreter, he is straightforward, taking the score at its word, which isn’t a fault—Schnabel did the same. His ebullient scherzos and perfectly animated, natural finales are the high points of his performances.
Brahms poses the pitfall of a sustained melancholy and introversion that can lapse into private composing filled with half lights. So much is beautiful and regretful at the same time. The four sets of pieces from op. 116 to op. 119 occupy the years 1892 and 1893, when the composer was turning 60. Osorio, now 66, wouldn’t be the first pianist to feel a late middle-aged kinship, but fortunately he plays autumnal Brahms somewhat counter to type. These are the least private and most varied readings I can remember, full of the pianist’s own enjoyment, even cheer. When a simple, heartbreaking melody appears (as in op. 116/2, op. 117/1, and op. 118/2) Osorio captures it beautifully—personalities can be poetic, too. His feeling for Brahms’s cross-rhythms is strong and instinctual, so when he launches into the three exuberant Capriccios of op. 116, he does so with thrust and excitement. I would have predicted that the more rhapsodic pieces would be Osorio’s strong suit, yet it was in the three inward parts of op. 117 where his playing was the most absorbing.
Çedille is a non-profit label dedicated to bringing Chicago-based performers and composers to the fore. Osorio, who balances a personal life, teaching career (as a professor at Roosevelt University’s College of Performing Arts), and public performances, could have easily shifted his focus entirely to being a touring professional. His playing is at the same high level as any number of American pianists with more prominent names, and his artist’s bio lists dozens of engagements with top-tier orchestras. It’s a happy occasion to hear him in this two-CD set of keyboard masterpieces in which he has much to say. The piano he plays is a solid-sounding Steinway, which has been well recorded for tone and power.
Osorio delivered a performance that matched elegance with brilliance, and he did it with effortless virtuosity
“The orchestral postcards began with Falla’s music from “El amor brujo” and the fragrant ‘Nights in the Gardens of Spain,’ which included the impressive debut of Mexican-born pianist Jorge Federico Osorio. Osorio delivered a performance that matched elegance with brilliance, and he did it with effortless virtuosity. The collaboration had him weaving cascades of runs, glissandos and glittering figures between orchestral themes, occasionally breaking through with a beautifully shaped solo. He handled it all with a refined touch and found expressive beauty in every phrase, with never a sign of harshness. Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos led in sweeping brushstrokes, catching the mystery of distant dances or the profuse colors of a garden. He was in tune with the pianist, even in the most spontaneous moments. For an encore, Osorio continued the mood with Enrique Granados’ ‘Andaluza’ piano solo from ‘Spanish Dances.’”
JOHN VON RHEIN
Jorge Federico Osorio, CSO master Beethoven concerto cycle
“Osorio, a resident of Highland Park since 1999, is a serious and cultivated Beethoven player…. Osorio’s accounts of the first three concertos – presented in order of composition, with Concerto No. 2 preceding No. 1 – revealed a clarity of mind as well as line, articulation and musical structure. In each case he commanded attention by showing us not the brilliant virtuoso (although he is certainly that) but by casting light on Beethoven’s thought processes and stylistic evolution.”
CHICAGO CLASSICAL REVIEW
Osorio’s Beethoven a revelation on every level at Ravinia
“Osorio’s performances of all three concertos proved revelatory on virtually every level. Though it is often said that early Beethoven concertos are Mozartean, Osorio actually played aspects of them as if they were by Mozart, albeit Mozart experienced through a fun-house mirror.
Particularly fascinating were Osorio’s buoyant ornamentation and rubato, which never intruded but always felt organic and inevitable. Often pianists feel the need to telegraph the Romanticism to come, but Osorio highlighted Beethoven’s expansions of Classicism with subtlety through timbral and dynamic nuances rather than with hyper-intensified touch or over-pedaling.
Not surprisingly, the virtually capacity crowd knew it was experiencing something quite special and the ovations reflected that: immense applause after the Second Piano Concerto and instantaneous standing ovations after No. 1, the best performed of the evening, and again after No. 3. ”
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
The season finale unveils a new work for organ and orchestra
Pianist, Pittsburgh Symphony bring out magic of Brahms, Dvorak
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Returning to New York, Forcefully
Selected Press Acclaim
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Liszt Concerto No. 2 in A Major
“With his sterling technique Osorio can roar through this beloved Romantic concerto with the best of them; and certainly the clarity and strength with which he dispatched the furious octave runs of the final section, at top speed, kept the excitement quotient high. But the musician in Osorio prevented self-regarding display from rearing its unseemly head. Osorio can summon a firmly weighted tone when he needs to, while his rhythmic reflexes are more than a match for Liszt’s scampering flights of bravura fancy. When joined in duet with John Sharp’s cello, his sound took on a purling, cantabile quality. The orchestra proved on good behavior under Frühbeck’s watchful eye and ear, and the audience responded with a generous ovation.”
– Chicago Tribune
Liszt Concerto No. 2 in A Major
“It takes a certain type of artistry to make Liszt’s vapid concertos into something more substantial, and Wednesday night with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Jorge Federico Osorio achieved more than most. The Mexican pianist has technique to burn and handled the fusillade of notes almost faultlessly, hurdling all of Liszt’s ludicrous complexities with poetry and a lean digital brilliance. More importantly, Osorio deftly underplayed the bombast and unhealthy vulgarity and made the single-movement concerto a more elegant and organic work.”
– Chicago Classical Review
Liszt Concerto No. 2 in A Major
“…there was the welcome appearance of Mexico-born pianist Jorge Federico Osorio. This renowned son of Mexico City, now a resident of Highland Park, is an artist worthy of the world’s great stages but has appeared only sparingly with his adopted city’s principal orchestra. …Osorio has turned out an impressive homecoming this week, even when one hankered for a stronger artistic barometer than Liszt’s pretty but superficial Piano Concerto No. 2. (In July at Ravinia, he will perform all five of Beethoven’s concertos.) Osorio’s reverence for this concerto runs deep. And he was able to cast Liszt more as a magnetic musical personality than a dazzling tune-spinner. This quick, one-movement concerto unfolds like an extended variation on a single theme, but it is a pretty theme, and the lyric sweetness of the music shone brightly under Osorio’s luminously strong voicing. As the tune played out in its many guises, there was no more touching moment than when Osorio engaged principal cellist John Sharp in a warmly moving dialogue. When the orchestra took over the lead, Osorio proved as brilliant a Liszt technician there is and rendered those messy scales into poetry.”
– Chicago Sun Times
Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
“…fearless virtuosity, deep lyrical feeling and tonal splendor…. He played the famous 18th variation like an inspired improvisation.”
– Chicago Tribune
“Based on the Dies Irae, a simple medieval-era plainchant used by composers from Berlioz to Verdi and beyond, Liszt’s Totentanz is a set of variations that careers between heavenly quiet and hellish cacophony. Osorio reveled in all of it, making sure we never lost track of the main theme, even as his massive, keyboard-devouring runs thundered away from its comforting contours. He fully explored Liszt’s few introspective moments as well, setting out mordant echoes of the Dies Irae with Bach-like serenity. The orchestra was a. fully involved partner, offering vivid splashes of color that ranged from joyful outbursts of brass to groaning cellos.”
– Chicago Sun-Times
“Totentanz is both a piano concerto in miniature and a scintillating series of variations on Dies Irae. The showpiece can easily sound empty and vulgar in the wrong hands. Osorio, fortunately, is much too sensitive a musician to pump up all that Lisztian diablerie for cheap, self-aggrandizing effect. To be sure, the virtuoso voltage was there – the pianist’s sweeping glissandos and flying octaves could hardly have been cleaner or more incisive – but so was the poetic sensibility.”
– Chicago Tribune
Seattle Symphony Orchestra Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2
“The opening piano statement (Brahms at his most magisterial) requires an orchestral sound from the keyboard, and a technique that can navigate huge leaps. …He [Osorio] has a very extensive palette of musical effects, and used them to remarkable advantage: a touch that can sound velvety and mysterious, or percussive and sonorous, and a poetic sensibility that serves the music well.”
– Seattle Times
Dallas Symphony Orchestra Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 1
“Osorio…has both the muscle for Prokofiev and a firm grip on the musical structure of the piece. In a crisp but unhurried performance, Osorio and conductor Eduardo Mata revealed the considerable constructive powers of a composer often dismissed as a mere noisemaker. The spectacular elements were played down, allowing the music to speak for itself. Osorio, the featured artist in this year’s Gina Bachauer Memorial Concert, held the sensuous and the structural aspects of Prokofiev in flawless balance.”
– Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“…Osorio played the irrepressible First Concerto of Serge Prokofiev. …His playing was kinetic and of bull’s eye accuracy. The orchestra caught and reflected much of the energy of Osorio’s playing…”
– Dallas Morning News
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15
“Tapped by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to step in for the ailing pianist Horacio Gutierrez (who himself had been subbing for an ill Rudolph Buchbinder), Osorio gave one of those, “where have you been all my life” performances under music director Manfred Honeck. Osorio…is known in musical circles for his Brahms, and he delivered in the composer’s symphony-turned-concerto, the Piano Concerto No. 1. The Mexican pianist unveiled a luxurious tone capable of immeasurable variation. In fact, his strength was never submitting to an uncomplicated approach. Brahms was conflicted in this work, which he began as a response to Beethoven’s dominating symphonic output, and Osorio captured that with rich and layered approach, such as a measure of elegance in the furious sections to underlying power in the lyrical sections. He poured on weight only in certain key sections, and the result, along with Honeck’s direction, was an emotional, up-and-down reading or a work that is exactly so.”
– Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Kansas City Symphony Falla “Nights in the Gardens of Spain”
“…he sought out depths in this rather lightweight piece, revealing glimpses of a profundity of artistry.”
– The Kansas City Star
Amsterdam Concertgebouw Schumann Piano Concerto, Op. 54
“The Concertgebouw of Amsterdam’s prolonged visit in Mexico started with a magical evening last week at Nezahualcoyotl Hall. …Pianist Jorge Federico Osorio opened the series and will also close it… …[Osorio] eschewed all caution and played with audacious sensitivity and vulnerability vis-à-vis Haitink’s no-nonsense approach. The orchestral support was solid and, again perfect.”
– The News, Mexico City
Singapore Symphony Orchestra Franck Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestral; Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini
“Osorio’s double-bill performance of Franck’s Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini showed a preference for smoothening out dynamic differences, an approach akin to that of the eminent conductor Herbert von Karajan. …One of the most endearing themes of all time, the Rhapsody seemed especially to benefit from Osorio’s delicate approach. …when Osorio performs, his whole persona grips the music. His music demands that you listen. Indeed, Osorio possesses a quality only befitting the best living Latin American pianist.”
– Singapore Times
Mexico City Philharmonic Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor
“…a rousing and stylish performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, one full of individual touches and informed by an attractive spontaneity. It also had an easy virtuosity in abundance, but even more: a tight grasp of the work’s emotional core.”
– Los Angeles Times
Galicia Symphony Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat Major, Op. 73 “Emperor”
“The Complutense University (Madrid) has presented to a varied, enthusiastic and unprejudiced audience the complete series of Beethoven Piano Concertos, with the outstanding Galicia Symphony, excellenty conducted by its music director Pablo Perez. Soloists: Romanian Valentin Gheorgiu, Viennese Paul Badura-Skoda, Spanish Manuel Achucarro, Belgian Jean Claude van den Eyden and Mexican Jorge Federico Osorio, who performed the “Emperor” Concerto. This … prestigious interpreter has been the most interesting of those listened to. …he has an important technique in all aspects. Osorio fills the hall with his sound, which is also attractive by its velvety quality. If in the most complex passages he conquers and convinces, in the exploration of the most intimate he shows us the root of a pure and deep artist. …this is an artist of stature: confident, communicative, rigorous and warm. The collaboration with Victor Pablo and the musicians from Galicia was masterful. Rarely can we hear everything with such extraordinary continuity, excellent accentuation and breathing. The triumph was exceptional.”
– El Pais (translated)
New Mexico Symphony Orchestra Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major
“The Piano Concerto No. 4 was the last concerto that Beethoven would perform in public as his encroaching deafness made collaborative playing all but impossible. From the opening chords the warmth of Osorio’s playing became manifest coupled with dexterous passagework as smooth as pouring oil. The second movement has often been likened to Orpheus (playing a piano rather than a lute) charming the Furies, the witches of hell. So successful was he that they become instead his guardian angels through the underworld of the robust final movement. The communion between orchestra and soloist was superb resulting in a performance graced by an immediate standing ovation….”
– Santa Fe Journal
Ravel Piano Concerto in D for Left Hand
“To find a great performance, one had to look no further than Jorge Federico Osorio’s reading of the Ravel Left-Handed Piano Concerto. Written for one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein, whose limb was a casualty of World War I, the work suggests something about the triumph of human spirit over adversity. Osorio took on that lofty purpose together with the music’s unique challenges. …In its two cadenzas, he shaped bold statements with powerful musculature and rounded the gentle whiffs with graceful sensitivity. His cascading arpeggios were full and strong. He made one hand sound like two, his thumb etching a lyrical line into relief while his other fingers rippled over distant keys.”
– Pasadena Star-News, CA
Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor
“Pianist Jorge Federico Osorio joined orchestra and conductor for the Grieg and provided ample justification for this beautiful work. A hearing under these excellent conditions reveals the work’s melodic beauty, its sheer musical power and always refined grace. Osorio played with a fiery elegance, providing power when necessary and lyric point when called for.”
– Pasadena Star-News, CA
Long Beach Symphony Ravel Piano Concerto in D for Left Hand
“One of the more elegant and accomplished pianists on the planet, Jorge Federico Osorio has been playing with our local orchestras over the past two decades. He always brings new insights, eloquent readings and an effortless virtuosity to all his assignments. …In…Ravel’s daunting Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, Osorio’s natural subtlety commanded and outlined the passion in the work…”
– Los Angeles Times
San Antonio Symphony Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor
“Jorge Federico Osorio was the powerful and poetic soloist in the Grieg. …Grieg’s lyrical concerto is one of the most overexposed in the repertoire, but Osorio revealed depths in this music that raised the performance above the routine. In his flexible phrasing and the huge, dark sound he summoned from the Steinway, Osorio allowed nocturnal shadows to play among the glittering pyrotechnics, especially in the solo cadenza of the first movement.”
– San Antonio Express-News
Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 in Eb Major, Op. 73
“Taking a breather from the Mexican theme, pianist Jorge Federico Osorio joined the orchestra before the break for a performance of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto. This was a marvelous reading. Osorio’s finger work was extra clear but never cold; his tone has a luminous and plush quality at all times. His phrasing was forward-leaning (he never dawdles) and yet never merely crisp and efficient but filled with all sorts of elucidating punctuation and oratorical drama. The slow movement didn’t merely float, but spoke in clear sentences too.”
– Orange County Register
Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
“Osorio…commanded, caressed and re-created Rachmaninoff’s familiar Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with stunning authority and a nuanced musical poetry. He made the F-major variation a thrilling cascade of jewels: pearly notes in a diamond-hard setting. He delivered the famous 18th variation with deep understatement: When the melody appeared, it was like a quiet and unexpected confession of love.”
– Los Angeles Times
Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra Mozart Concerto No. 23 for Piano in A Major
“Pianist Jorge Osorio delivered the most sublime performance of Mozart’s Concerto No. 23 for Piano in A Major in the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra’s all Mozart Classic’s Concert on Saturday night at The Victory. With great musicianship, authority and sensitivity, he achieved perfection in a very beautiful work. From the sprightly opening of the first movement to the singing melancholy of the second, then incomparable trills and runs of the sensational third, the audience was gifted by a first-rate performance. Then Osorio graced the concert with a remarkable encore form Bach’s First Partita — a gentle, masterful performance which made for a perfect ending.”
– Evansville Courier & Press
Grant Park Symphony
Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2
“Osorio is clearly a pianist with technique to burn, which he demonstrated in a quite exhilarating performance. The finger-breaking outer movements held no terrors for him, with a flawless first-movement cadenza and a rhythmically sharp, hell-for-leather finale, all the more exciting for Osorio’s firm technical control. …In the central Adante, Osorio spun a seamless poetic line, his playing beautifully sustained… A great performance.”
– Chicago Tribune
Ponce Piano Concerto
“Ponce’s Piano Concerto would make a fascinating item for a blind listening. Although written in 1910, the work is a Romantic throwback that could have been penned some 60 years earlier. Its three movements are grounded in the Lisztian tradition. …If you didn’t know the composer’s identity, you might guess a Romantic composer-pianist such as Scharwenka or Paderewski, except that the score’s tunefulness also echoes Rachmaninoff and MacDowell. Ponce must have been one of the great virtuoso pianists of his hemisphere because his concerto bristles with bravura demands that only a virtuoso can vanquish. Osorio threw himself into the piece with such panache that what might have sounded derivative instead sounded utterly persuasive. To make such a rarity sound easy to perform as well as enjoyable to those who have never heard it before requires a special talent, and Osorio has it. His technical solidity allowed him to grab double handfuls of notes at top speed, rarely missing a note. His dynamic control was such that thunderous chordal passages registered as clearly as light-fingered melodic filigree. Above all, he made music of the concerto, not mere display.”
– Chicago Tribune