Beethoven: Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 (Pathétique); Sonata in E, Op. 14/1; Sonata in G, Op. 14/2; Sonata in B flat, Op. 22

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
ALBUM TITLE: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1
WORKS: Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 (Pathétique); Sonata in E, Op. 14/1; Sonata in G, Op. 14/2; Sonata in B flat, Op. 22
PERFORMER: Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
Having completed period-instrument recordings of the solo keyboard works of Haydn and Mozart, Ronald Brautigam has now launched himself on a Beethoven cycle. This finely recorded first volume features a copy of an early 19th-century instrument by Anton Walter, and the immediacy of its attack is apparent from the very first chord of the Pathétique Sonata. Brautigam plays the chord in curious fashion, holding it for considerably longer than its true value. Like most pianists, he also treats it as an explosive fortissimo, though Beethoven’s curious fp marking, coupled with the chord’s bottom-heavy layout, suggests he may have had something more world-weary in mind. For the rest, Brautigam gives a compellingly urgent account of the Sonata’s outer movements, conveying a vivid idea of how defiant this music must have sounded to Beethoven’s contemporaries. Brautigam’s virtuosity stands him in good stead in the strangely impersonal Op. 22 Sonata, and he finds just the right tone of intimate lyricism in the smaller-scale pair of Op. 14. Only the finale of Op. 14 No. 2 is a touch straitlaced. Stephen Kovacevich’s recording of the same four sonatas is only available these days as part of a complete boxed set, but he’s a pianist who responds more readily to the wit and quirkiness of that finale; and he finds greater warmth than Brautigam in the Adagio of the Pathétique. But this new disc augurs well for the continuation of Brautigam’s series, and anyone who prefers the music played on a fortepiano is unlikely to find it better done. Misha Donat