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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline


Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Complete Works for Solo Piano Vol. 6
Sonata No.21 in C major, Op.53 ‘Waldstein’ (1803-4) [22:41]
Sonata No.22 in F major, Op.54 (1804) [9:38]
Sonata No.23 in F minor, Op.57 ‘Appassionata’ (1804-5) [20:55]
Sonata No.24 in F sharp minor, Op.78 (1809) [9:40]
Sonata No.25 in G major, Op.79 (1809) [8:41]
Ronald Brautigam (Paul McNulty fortepiano after Conrad Graf, c.1819)
rec. Österåker Church, Sweden, August 2007
BIS BISSACD1573 [73:04]


Experience Classicsonline

We’ve had a slight gap in Ronald Brautigam’s wonderfully stimulating Beethoven sonata series, presumably while another fortepiano was selected for the ‘Waldstein’ which, like other later sonatas, requires a greater range from the keyboard. Another Paul McNulty copy has been decided on, this time based on a Conrad Graf instrument of around 1819. It’s subtly different to the Anton Walter copy of earlier volumes, but still a perfect choice, with its bell-like treble, warmer mid-range and slightly – as one might expect- more sonorous bass register.

Five sonatas sounds a lot to get on one disc, but of course three of them are little sonatinas of less than 10 minutes each. This does not make them particularly slight in content, and each of them shows different aspect of the mature Beethoven style. My own favourite is the G major of 1809, though maybe I’m slightly biased as it brings back memories of Associated Board exams in days gone by. It’s a glorious little piece, full of Haydn-esque humour and quirky little shifts in harmony. Predictably perhaps, but Brautigam relishes starting it at quite a fast lick, perhaps taking on board the Presto, rather than the alla tedesca marking. It is great fun, the fortepiano sounding ideal for the fast-running passages and cross-hand passages of the development.

The Op.78 F sharp of the same year is another marvellously subtle work, different in mood and tone but covering a lot of ground in its 9-odd minutes. It’s mellower and milder, a perfect counterpart to the G major. Here you may be thinking you’ll miss the sonority of a modern grand in those opening chords; not a bit of it, and Brautigam makes sure the balancing of the harmonies is not clouded or obscured.

The other ‘little’ sonata in F major from 1804 is quite a tough nut to crack. It starts amiably before moving into what Roeland Hazendonk’s note calls ‘the fiercely pounding, short-tempered melody’, as well as a finale that betrays a ‘similar hard edge’. This sounds like typical Beethoven to us, but as Hazendonk rightly points out, his contemporaries found all this sort of writing eccentric, though it proves meat and drink to Brautigam, who positively revels in the mood shifts and bursts of volatile energy.

That takes us neatly to the two ‘big’ famous sonatas on the disc. I really love the feeling of nervous energy that Brautigam imparts in both, particularly the ‘Waldstein’. It starts fast, but the lighter action of the Graf copy ensures articulation is spot-on, and Brautigam’s superb virtuosity is given free rein throughout. He is, as always, alive to all the subtle shifts in harmonic weight and pulse, as well as having a glorious sense of rhythmic pulse that just sounds right to my ears. Nowhere is this more evident than in those wonderfully vague meanderings before the development section (around 4:25) which are controlled expertly by Brautigam. The lighter action undoubtedly helps in the finale, especially the notorious glissandos at 8:12, which sound absolutely effortless. It’s a thoroughly superb overall performance, as indeed is the ‘Appassionata’. This is also faster than the maybe is the norm – especially the variation movement - but it just grips from start to finish. There is colour and drama, light and shade, personality in spades, the rhythmic precision we’ve come to expect but allied to a characterizing of the melodic lines that takes the breath away. It sits easily alongside the best recorded versions in my library, which I count as Barenboim (EMI), Goode (Nonesuch) and Kempff (DG), and is probably more viscerally exciting than any of them.

If you’re collecting this cycle, you’ll probably already have this. If you haven’t, and want the treat of hearing familiar music re-invented as new before your very ears, do buy this disc. Excellent audio quality as usual and stimulatingly different liner notes just put the icing on the cake.

Tony Haywood


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