Beethoven

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Ronald Brautigam: The Rage Over a Lost Penny
WORKS: Rondos (complete); Ecossaises, WoO 86 & WoO 83; Andante favori in F; Fantasia, Op. 77; Polonaise in C; Für Elise; Andante Maestoso in C
PERFORMER: Ronald Brautigam (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-1892 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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This disc ranges over the full chronological spectrum of Beethoven’s career, from a pair of teenage rondos, to a late slow movement intended for string quintet, but marketed in keyboard form by Anton Diabelli after the composer’s death as ‘Beethoven’s Last Musical Thought’. Some of the pieces here are small beer, but a few are more substantial: the Andante favori originally for the Waldstein Sonata; the Fantasia, Op. 77, which gives us a vivid idea of what Beethoven’s improvisations must have been like; and the Polonaise, Op. 89, hastily thrown together as a gift to the Empress of Russia at the time of the Congress of Vienna.

Ronald Brautigam plays Für Elise in an edition by Beethoven scholar Barry Cooper that differs markedly from its familiar form. Not only does it have a yearning new transition into the first contrasting episode, but there’s also an additional reprise of the main theme – not necessarily an improvement – near the close.

In these admirably imaginative performances, Brautigam plays an early 19th-century piano for the first few items, but switches to a larger instrument with an extended compass for the later pieces. The disc is strongly recommended to anyone wanting to explore the byways of Beethoven’s output.

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Misha Donat