Monday, 13 April 2015

MSR Classics release Volume 4 of James Brawn’s Beethoven Odyssey with performances that cannot be praised too highly

I have been following James Brawn’s cycle of Beethoven’s piano sonatas with great enthusiasm. He seems so naturally attuned to these great works, combining fine musicianship with a superb technique that produces Beethoven playing of the highest order. has just released the fourth volume of James Brawn’s Beethoven Odyssey with sonatas spanning the years 1798 to 1814.

MS 1468

James Brawn opens with the Piano Sonata No.9 in E major, Op.14 No.1 (1798-99) bringing a beautifully lightly sprung Allegro, exquisitely shaped, so thoughtfully done with little surges of tempo so well judged, the music beautifully developed. The Allegretto & Maggiore has a lovely rhythmic sway with a particularly fine trio section, a lovely contrast with its gentle flow perfectly caught here. Brawn brings all his fine sensibility as we are led back to the opening theme. The Rondo (Allegro comodo) brings some extremely fine, fluent playing, building finely in dynamics with some terrific moments as the movement progresses, this pianist revealing so many lovely facets between the stormier passages.

With the Allegro of the Piano Sonata No.15 in D major, Op.28 (1801) ‘Pastorale’ this pianist displays a fine control of tempi and dynamics, finely phrased with a lovely restraint. Brawn builds some lovely, quietly dramatic phrases, holding back before letting go with passages of great power bringing so much assurance, authority and restraint. Brawn provides lovely gently rhythmic phrases to the Andante over which he lays Beethoven’s melody, revealing this to be a quite extraordinary movement. There is a skittish little middle section, playful yet with little outbursts, before developing a fine flow with the rhythmic pulse still lurking underneath. How much Beethoven packs into this movement, wonderfully revealed by this artist.

The Scherzo (Allegro vivace) & Trio has a really terrific opening with such a lovely touch from Brawn, beautifully crisp, with such fine clarity of phrasing combined with moments of terrific forward flow. The Rondo (Allegro ma non troppo) - Più allegro quasi Presto has a really lovely rhythmic theme, so reminiscent of the pastoral Beethoven. James Brawn shows his fine touch as he builds passages of terrific dynamic grandeur with some lovely limpid little phrases, finely fluent before positively bounding to the coda with some fabulous playing.

This is an absolutely terrific performance.

There is a lovely thoughtful opening to the Adagio cantabile of the Piano Sonata No.24 in F sharp major, Op.78 (1809) ‘À Thérèse’ before this pianist gently moves the music forward with such a delicate light touch, exquisitely phrased with fine control and rubato subtly increasing in power and passion in the Allegro ma non Troppo that follows with Brawn constantly varying the tempi and dynamics to such fine effect. This pianist shows how he can move quickly from thoughtful moments to dynamic passages with ease.  He leaps into the Allegro vivace with a fine forward thrust, always finely controlled before some beautifully intricate passages, to which he brings a crystalline clarity.

The Presto alla tedesca of Piano Sonata No.25 in G major, Op.79 (1809) opens joyously, Brawn bringing a terrific fast flowing outpouring of invention showing his fine articulation and touch, revelling in Beethoven’s fast moving development. This is beautifully controlled playing with fine rubato, lovely phrasing. A real joy. The Andante brings a fine gentle flow, Brawn providing exquisite fluidity with many moments of fine poetic poise and depth. There is a Vivace with crisply pointed dynamic passages showing more of this pianist’s fine phrasing and control.

This is another particularly fine performance.

James Brawn brings a forthright edge to the more dynamic opening phrases of the Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck of Piano Sonata No.27 in E minor, op.90 (1814) with moments of gentle fluent flow, such poetry contrasting with the passages of dynamic power. Brawn finds all of Beethoven’s changes of mood. The second movement Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorzutragen flows beautifully, a fine melody with Brawn subtly bringing out many little variations of tempo and dynamics showing his ability to coax every nuance from this music. There is a terrific outpouring of melodic invention in a wonderfully conceived performance, beautifully controlled, wonderfully done.

I really cannot praise these performances too highly. This new cycle is set to become one of the finest in many years. I was so engrossed in these performances that I initially did not give a thought to the sound quality, surely a testament to the naturalness of the recording which is top notch. There are first rate notes from James Brawn and Linda Marianiello.

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1 comment:

  1. I´ve enjoyed the first three albums in the cycle tremendously. Looking forward to this installment.