This is Sarah Beth Briggs' third solo CD, all on Semaphore.
Her 2005 debut featured Haydn and Mozart, with some Bartók,
Brahms and Chopin, and in her 2007 follow-up she played Beethoven
with Brahms, Britten and Rawsthorne. Both discs met with critical
acclaim, and the plaudits are already rolling in for this latest
release - and rightly so. The programme itself is mouth-watering
enough to any lover of late 18th-early 19th century piano music;
to have these great works performed with as much insight as
Briggs has superb technique amounts to a five-star feast. [Photo
Clive Barda - with permission)
Beethoven might have thought more highly of his feisty, almost
ironic Variations in C minor if he had heard Briggs perform
them like this. Dramatic and virtuosic, this work is often described
as 'stormy' or 'morose' - but that is surely to misread Beethoven.
Briggs teases out the rays of warm sunshine that lurk just above
the scudding rain clouds.
From one of Beethoven's most undervalued pieces to one of Haydn's
finest sonatas, the longest work in Briggs' recital, in fact.
Though not requiring the same degree of virtuosity, the Sonata
in E flat's expansive spaciousness of texture will expose any
impostors: Briggs breezes confidently through like the final
Back to C minor for one of Mozart's best piano sonatas, the
K.457, written two decades before Beethoven's Variations. In
her notes Briggs writes that "pain and suffering never
seem far away", but is this work not simply yet another
fine example of Mozart doing as Mozart can - writing a stunning
work, full of pathos and tunes, to please himself and the captive
audiences he was performing for at the time? At any rate, Briggs'
account of the beautiful second movement - pathétique,
as Beethoven might have called it! - is outstanding, splendidly
phrased and very expressive.
And so, finally, back to Beethoven: the Piano Sonata in A flat,
op.110, not just one of his finest, but one of the greatest
keyboard works of art in history. A huge undertaking for any
pianist to contemplate, but Briggs is well prepared: this is
the work she played in the 1984 BBC Young Musician of the Year
- aged 11! That was a brave decision, to say the least, and
it failed to pay off, but 27 years of further practice later,
Briggs, without question, now has what it takes - this is an
immensely thoughtful interpretation of Beethoven's profoundest
ideas. Her greatest success is in the incredibly moving finale,
where she takes the listener on a melancholic, electrifying
journey into the deepest recesses of the human psyche and out
to the most Cimmerian reaches of the universe. Beethoven's ten
fateful chords near the end have never been so poignant - and
there, suddenly, is that other keyboard genius, Johann Sebastian
Bach, helping Beethoven to bring this incredible work to a fabulous
end, which Briggs does with effortless style.
The fact that Briggs is York-based rather than moving in London's
arty circles may go some way to explain her relatively low media
profile. However, those who overlook her for that reason, or
indeed any other, do so at their own great loss. This marvellous
CD is beautifully recorded in the becoming acoustic of Potton
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Concert Reviews on Seen and Heard:
Britten, Chopin: Sarah Beth Briggs (piano), St Martin in
the Fields, London 30.1.2009 (CM)
Schumann: Sarah Beth Briggs (piano). Fairfield Halls, London