ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Sonatas, Op. 31 Nos 1-3
PERFORMER: Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: SACD-1572 (hybrid CD/SACD)
With this new release, Ronald Brautigam’s Beethoven cycle has passed the halfway stage. So far, he’s been playing on a copy of a piano made around 1802 by the Viennese manufacturer Anton Walter, but he won’t be able to use it for much longer. Its compass of five-and-half octaves is sufficient for the Op. 31 sonatas, which are exactly contemporaneous with the instrument; but already the following year, with the Waldstein Sonata, Beethoven began extending the range of his keyboard writing, and by the end of the decade the finale of Les Adieux would have found this piano short of notes at the top end.
One advantage of a period instrument is the cleanness of its bass register – a particular boon in the Tempest Sonata, Op. 31 No. 2, with its unusual amount of activity in the nether regions. Brautigam’s performances are well up to the standard of his previous releases, and he’s particularly good at capturing the agitated drama of the Tempest’s outer movements, as well as the quirky wit of the G major (the first sonata of this set). Perhaps the slow movement of the Tempest could have done with a greater sense of breadth and serenity; and both here and in the scherzo second movement of Op. 31 No. 3 Beethoven’s sharp double-dotted rhythm isn’t accurately conveyed.
There are fine single-disc accounts of these sonatas from Alfred Brendel (Philips), Paul Lewis (Harmonia Mundi) and Richard Goode, with Goode – like Brautigam – taking the whirlwind finale of the last sonata at breakneck speed. But certainly, Brautigam has much to offer, too. Misha Donat