Beethoven: Complete Works for Solo Piano

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Piano Sonatas: No. 28 in A, Op. 101; No. 30 in E, Op. 109; No. 31 in A flat, Op. 110; No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111
PERFORMER: Ronald Brautigam (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BIS SACD-1613

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This release marks the completion of Ronald Brautigam’s Beethoven sonatas cycle. There are few early-instrument practitioners who can match Brautigam’s musical insight and technical prowess, and it has been a stimulating and rewarding series.

There are moments here – the slow introduction to the finale of the Sonata Op. 101, for instance, or the reprise of the fugue in Op. 110 – where the fortepiano’s pedals really come into their own.

Beethoven marks both passages una corda, and instructs the pianist to bring all the strings into play only gradually, as though lifting a veil – an effect that can’t be recaptured on a modern concert grand.

Brautigam often shows a liking for fast tempos coupled with strongly-defined dynamics, so it’s curious to find him taking the scherzo of Op. 110 at such a steady pace, and with its dynamic contrasts rather underplayed.

On the other hand, there are no holds barred in his impressively passionate account of Op. 111’s opening Allegro. However, Brautigam’s account of the same sonata’s concluding ‘Arietta’ variations is likely to prove a stumbling block for many listeners.

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Most pianists view the major portion of the piece as the most profoundly serene and other-worldly music Beethoven ever wrote for piano, but Brautigam’s surprisingly flowing underlying tempo engenders some hectic activity in the central variations as the note-values progressively decrease, and his performance as a whole sounds disappointingly down-to-earth. Misha Donat