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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Fantasy in C minor, K.475 (1785) [13:43]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata in C minor, 'Pathétique', op.13 (1798) [18:15]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonata in B flat, D.960 (1828) [43:12]
Sarah Beth Briggs (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk, England, 25-27 June 2013.
SEMAPHORE SMLMP35 [75:44] 

This is English pianist Sarah Beth Briggs' fourth solo CD, all on the independent Semaphore label - see reviews of previous releases here, here and here. Mozart and/or Beethoven have been permanent features of these recordings, both indeed appearing together here and on her last disc. Other works have all come from core repertoire, lending her programmes an air of irresistibility to adherents of the Classical-Romantic axis in which Briggs specialises. As before, a strength of this CD is the fact that the works have been selected and ordered by Briggs herself rather than by a man in a suit - the listener will find distinct 'echoes' of Mozart's work in Beethoven's, and Beethoven's in Schubert's.
 
Briggs dedicates this recording to the memory of her teacher Denis Matthews, who died in sad circumstances 25 years ago. In the notes she thanks him for introducing her to Schubert's final B flat Sonata, which she rightly describes as "one of the greatest pieces of music ever written". Music-lovers too will thank him, for Briggs gives a commanding account of this emotionally and physically demanding masterpiece.
 
She opens, though, in immediately striking style with Mozart's Fantasy in C minor, one of his most innovative and imaginative works for piano. Atmospheric and profound, like a time-travelling score from Beethoven's desk, it is also one of Mozart's most recorded solo piano works, thrusting Briggs instantly up against a welter of great pianists - renowned Mozarteans like Uchida, Pires, Barenboim, Haebler; period specialists like Brautigam, Bezuidenhout, Immerseel, Rampe; those usually associated with other composers, like Hough, Ciccolini, Kempff, Gieseking; and a stack of others in individual works.
 
The marketplace for Mozart is a mere mêlée by comparison with the number of blue-riband accounts available for both Beethoven and Schubert - it is very difficult indeed for a 21st-century pianist to cordon off any part at all of this performance arena, especially one with a relatively low media profile like Briggs. However, not all can be considered 'authentic', by any stretch - Alfred Brendel's misjudged 'deletion' of the first-movement repeat in the Schubert, for example - and certain others would likely have Beethoven in particular turning in his grave.
 
Briggs herself pays due respect to Beethoven's grave - that is, the opening of the 'Pathétique' - and therein lies the big attraction of her interpretations: they give the listeners the composer, rather than the performer. She has all the requisite attributes: technical prowess, crisp articulation, thoughtful, idiomatic phrasing, an elegant sense of expressive restraint, meticulous attention to dynamics, physical and mental strength, and above all a sense of awe for the beautiful artworks she performs and for their creators as they speak through her.
 
Like the three earlier releases, this one was recorded at Potton Hall, and sound quality is good - not as clear as some recordings, admittedly, but still more than adequate to do the music and music-making justice. The accompanying booklet has improved on previous ones, with more detailed tracklistings, some nice artwork and more naturalistic photos of Briggs than before. Briggs's own notes provide a satisfactory amount of detail on the music, including an account of personal performing decisions. As usual, the booklet in PDF format is available free from her website here.
 
Byzantion
Contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk

Masterwork Index: Beethoven Pathetique sonata ~~ Schubert sonata D960
 

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