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Beethoven: Complete Works for Solo Piano, Vol 13 - Brautigam

Beethoven: Complete Works for Solo Piano, Vol 13 - Brautigam

BIS  BIS-1892 SACD

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental


Ludwig van Beethoven:
Rondo in C major, WoO48
Rondo in A major, WoO49
Rondo in B flat major, Kinsky-Halm Anh.6
Rondo in C major, Op.51 No.1
Rondo in G major, Op.51 No.2
Rondo a capriccio in G major, Op.129
Ecossaise in E flat major, WoO86
Six Ecossaises, WoO83
Andante in F major, WoO57
Fantasie, Op.77
Polonaise in C major, Op.89
Klavierstück ‘Für Elise’
Andante maestoso in C major (1826)

Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)


An intriguing volume, containing rarities alongside core repertoire, such as the Andante favori and the Fantasia Op.77, as well as the popular Rondo a capriccio 'The Rage Over a Lost Penny' which has lent its name to this collection.

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Review by John Miller - June 5, 2014

Brautigam's peerless traversal over Beethoven's piano works on period pianos is getting close to the final volume (No.17). Casual non-pianist readers might think that the periphery of the composer's great piano pieces merely contains inferior or early (supposedly immature) work, of interest only to scholars or piano teachers. Not so, as Brautigam convincingly shows in this volume, devoted to Rondos and other miscellaneous short pieces, named collectively in German as "Klavierstücke".

Two replica grand pianos built by Paul McNulty are used for the purpose; a 2-pedal instrument c.1805 by Walther, the most famous Viennese maker (Tracks 1-8) and a 4-pedal Graf c.1819 (Tracks 9-13). With these resources of different characters Brautigam is able to marry each piece to one or other piano, so as to reveal it at its best.

In his fact-packed liner notes, Roeland Hazendonk guides us through each piece, in track order, beginning with the single-piece rondos from various stages of Beethoven's career. Using his Walther, which has a characteristic sound with a timbre hinting of a harpsichord, Brautigam demonstrates that even as a young teenager in Bonn, Beethoven's mature style was already embedded in his compositions. Each one is stylish, melodically interesting and often stiffened with sly humour and Beethoven's penchant for sudden surprises. And the Rondo in B flat major in particular suits the Walther perfectly, as it is invested with chains of trills which recall Baroque harpsichord music.

The Rondo a capriccio in G major, Op. 129 is often known as 'The Rage Over a Lost Penny, Vented in a Caprice'. This name, however, has nothing to do with Beethoven, but to Anton Schindler, friend and pupil of Beethoven in the last part of the composer's life. Schindler almost had an industry for interfering with Beethoven's works and introducing his own ideas about them. The title 'Rage Over a Lost Penny was entirely his idea, and he simply wrote it directly onto Beethoven's score, where it was picked up by the publisher, to become standard currency as Beethoven's intention. It is not well-known that Beethoven left the Rondo unfinished; that job came to Diabelli, Beethoven's astute publisher. Brautigam's interpretation is both headstrong and headlong, crackling with energy, tackling the finger-breaking virtuoso runs with perfect articulation..The Walther provides a range of interesting timbrel colours, striking as the music moves up and down the keyboard.

The Graf piano, with sturdier tone and slightly twangy resonances from the strings, gives a nobility and fluency to another highlight in this collection, the Andante in F WoO57 (1809). Snatched from its original position in the 'Waldstein' Sonata, this lovely piece has gained a life of its own as 'Andante favori'. Playing it sympathetically on a period instrument makes one love it afresh.

It is little known that Beethoven was a master of improvisation (as a youthful pianist, newly arrived in Vienna, he joined in the highly fashionable Vienna contests of improvisation for visiting virtuosos). Very few examples exist of his improvisation style, but the Fantasie Op. 77 (1800?) is probably a revised version of a solo fantasy that Beethoven played during that famous elongated public concert when the Fifth and Sixth symphonies, Fourth Piano Concerto and Choral Fantasy were first performed. The startling initial gesture of Op. 77 is a loud rapidly descending scale like a thunderbolt from the sky, followed by a tranquil melody, which keeps on being interrupted by these unexpected thunder bolts. The piece ends with a brilliant set of variations in B major. Brautigam clearly relishes this Fantasie, and the sounds the Graff makes are fully exploited, especially the deep, gruff bass notes.

A final highlight is one of Beethoven's most popular piano pieces, beloved of young pianists as it is such a pleasure to practice. 'Für Elise' (possibly should be meant for Therese) is a song without words and was published posthumously in 1867, to instant success. However, Beethoven revised the piece about 1810, but left the revision as a pile of notes. Veteran Beethoven scholar Barry Cooper has compiled these notes and produced a final version, which is recorded here by Brautigam. The changes are fairly small, but noticeable, and it does seem to have improved. Beethoven changed the tempo instruction from the usual "Poco moto" to "Molto grazioso".

Despite mostly relatively short lengths and disparate structures on this disc, all the pieces are delightful to listen to without exception, brought to life by the dedicated and gifted musicianship and superb pianistic technique of Ronald Brautigam. So, like all other elements of this complete set of Beethoven's piano music, this too is highly recommended.

Copyright © 2014 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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