Beethoven: Complete Works for Solo Piano, Vol 05 - Brautigam
Classical - Instrumental
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas 16 - 18
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
Few series have met with such unanimous acclaim as that of Ronald Brautigam's Beethoven cycle. The very first volume was greeted as a milestone, and after three more, equally praised instalments most critics agree that this is certainly the foremost cycle recorded on the fortepiano. Indeed many critics maintain that it contains some of the most exciting Beethoven interpretations on any keyboard instrument, historic or modern.
Reacting to the first volume, the reviewer in Fanfare expressed hopes of a cycle ‘that challenges the very notion of playing this music on modern instruments, a stylistic paradigm shift’, while German website klassik.com called Brautigam’s performances on Volume 4 (which includes the Moonlight Sonata, Op. 27 No.2) ‘another milestone in his discography and in the history of Beethoven interpretation’. With the present disc we are nearing the end of Beethoven’s so-called Early Period. The three sonatas of Op. 31 were composed in the village of Heiligenstadt outside Vienna during the summer of 1802.
This was one of the most difficult periods of the composer’s life, as he was having to resign himself to the increasing deafness that had been plaguing him for some years. He spent a summer of emotional turmoil, as testified by the famous Heiligenstadt testament, a never-to-be-sent letter to his brothers in which he confesses to thoughts of suicide. In the end, Beethoven decided to live, explaining his reasons in the following manner: ‘It was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me.’
Given the circumstances the Op.31 sonatas show surprisingly little of the strong emotions that their maker was experiencing, but in terms of how Beethoven in them forges new roads for the sonata form, bringing it into a new century and indeed a new era, they are ample proof of that which Beethoven must have felt within himself!
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Review by John Broggio - October 7, 2008
A wonderful disc that keeps the exalted standard of this series flying high.
Chronologically the last group of sonatas to be published under the same Opus number - the juvenile pair Op49 were published "out of order" - this is a natural combination that contains some of the most varied piano music that Beethoven wrote and Ronald Brautigam is fully up to the Herculean task of one of Beethoven's many peaks in the repertoire. The dexterity and clarity of articulation in the opening of Op31/1 or the finale of Op31/3 is just dazzling!
Just as he has done earlier in the cycle, Brautigam makes very sensitive use of both pedals so that textures have the ideal blend of strength, clarity and, when required, tenderness. This is particularly evident at moments of sudden drops in the dynamic markings (a common feature to all three works). One thing that becomes ever clearer as the cycle progresses is that, although a fortepiano is used, this is no homage to HIP in its purest form. Brautigam makes many expressive points that are not specified in the score but like others before him have found to make a great musical effect - this is a wonderful juxtaposition of head and heart that is all too rarely heard.
Just as he brings out the apparent innocence in the G major sonata, the unbridled energy of the E flat major sonata, Brautigam also creates real tension and drama in the D minor "Tempest" sonata. In one of the most famous of all sonatas, Brautigam unleashes a furious storm that would sound quite outsize on a modern piano but the more restrained forces of his fortepiano allow the quasi-tremolando figurations to be registered as a convincing torrent of sound. But virtuosity is not Brautigam's only talent - the eloquence that he brings to the Adagio is very touching and illustrates in a microcosm how varied the compositions are on this disc.
The disc was recorded in Österåker Church, Sweden and like others in the series BIS and Brautigam have used the acoustic as part of the interpretative process. The resonance smooths most sympathetically the percussive nature of the fortepiano making the patina of sound richer, yet at no point is any of the clarity of articulation blurred, although I would have preferred a slightly more neutral response from the acoustic if being completely honest.
Enthusiastically recommended and I look forward to Beethoven: Complete Works for Solo Piano, Vol 06 - Brautigam dropping through my letter box any day now!
Copyright © 2008 John Broggio and HRAudio.net