ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Solo piano works, Vol. 15: Diabelli Variations; 6 National Airs with Variations
PERFORMER: Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-1943 (hybrid CD/SACD)
This release marks the conclusion of Ronald Brautigam’s ambitious series covering all Beethoven’s solo piano music. The Diabelli Variations, one of the summits of the pianist’s repertoire altogether, is an appropriate way to bow out, and Brautigam gives an altogether fine performance. Perhaps he doesn’t quite capture all the music’s humour – Variation 13, for instance, with its alternation between thunderous full-blooded chords and apologetic single notes, is a bit under-characterised; and the Don Giovanni variation needs crisper articulation and a more scrupulous attention to dynamic contrasts to make its full comic effect. But Brautigam draws full expressive depth out of the great C minor Largo preceding the climactic fugue, and his account is generally full of imaginative touches.
On a much smaller scale are the variation-sets Op. 105, written for the Scottish publisher and folk song enthusiast George Thomson – minor chippings from the great workshop, and composed at speed, but fascinating nevertheless. They’re a sort of laboratory for ideas Beethoven carried out on a larger scale soon afterwards in his late piano music. The second set, based on the Welsh song ‘Of Noble race was Shenkin’, culminates in a long trill of the kind we find in the variation finales of the sonatas Opp. 109 and 111; and the third, on an Austrian folk song, contains a variation in slow-moving chords of elliptical harmony – much like the mysterious Variation 20 in the Diabelli set. These little-known pieces are a welcome bonus, and Brautigam dispatches them brilliantly.