The renowned Scottish pianist discusses Messiaen’s monumental Vingt Regards.

Scottish pianist Steven Osborne has never been one to do things by halves. His enviable reputation in concert and on record includes some of the thornier, some would say problematic, works of the 20th century: Britten, rarely heard Tippett, equally rare Stravinsky. He’s coming to Sydney in August for a solo recital, guest of the Australian Chamber Orchestra and, although the concert will last over two hours without a break, there’s only one item on the menu: Messiaen’s extraordinary Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus.

The French composer Olivier Messiaen wrote the Vingt Regards(or twenty meditations on the childhood of Christ), in 1944 for his future wife, the pianist Yvonne Loriod. “It’s one of the most amazing things to hear live,” says Osborne, whose first encounter with the work was a fragmentary one during his college days. “I was kind of interested,” he says, “but I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight by any means. The movements I heard didn’t include any of those really slow ones, and it was only as I started to explore the score that I got really interested. There are incredible contrasts throughout the piece.”