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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Sergei Rachmaninov was one of the most popular classical composers of the 20th century, but he has been snubbed by some music historians. One famous history book devotes a mere seven lines to him.

Well, our critic, Tom Manoff, says a new CD highlights the composer's genius. It is Rachmaninov's 24 preludes from pianist Steven Osborne.

TOM MANOFF: Many young piano students have played Rachmaninov's famous "Prelude in C-Sharp Minor" and imagine themselves on stage at Carnegie Hall, hands in the air, dropping down to play its grand octaves and chords. And I was one of them.

(Soundbite of song, "Prelude in C-Sharp Minor")

MANOFF: Listening to this prelude, which opens the CD, I couldn't stop myself from going to the piano and giving it another try — for about a page. Then, I just sat back and listened to Steven Osborne play.

(Soundbite of song, "Prelude in C-Sharp Minor")

MANOFF: Rachmaninov composed 24 preludes, one for each musical key. They've been recorded by some of the greatest pianists, which makes it tough for any new recording to find a niche. Preludes are essentially vignettes that explore one musical idea. So it's important to capture that idea in performance. Osborne does, and with great clarity, giving each prelude a distinct and compelling character.

(Soundbite of song, "Prelude No. 4 in D Minor Op. 23")

MANOFF: A lot of music can be made ostentatious through overly opulent performance. But Osborne puts opulence on a diet. He looks inside the music for the basic threads that hold it together and comes up not with gauze, but with velvet.

(Soundbite of song, "Prelude No. 10 in B Minor, Op. 32")

MANOFF: Steven Osborne has reawakened in me the essential beauty of these preludes and reminded me also of the composer's high level of craft. And Osborne brings a special feeling to this music. It's not opulence; it's innocence.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: That's Tom Manoff. He was reviewing Steven Osborne's new recording of Rachmaninov's piano preludes, and you can listen to some of them at nprmusic.org.

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