Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
32 Variations in C minor, WoO80 (1806) [11:17]
Sonata no.31 in A flat, op.110 (1822) [21:42]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Sonata no.62 in E flat, Hob. XVI:52 (1794) [22:42]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata in C minor, K.457 (1784) [20:33]
Sarah Beth Briggs (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk, England, 6-8 April 2011. DDD
SEMAPHORE MULTIMEDIA SML MP28 [76:24]
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.
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 movement itself.
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 Hall.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Fabulous done with effortless style. A marvellous CD beautifully recorded.