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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Complete Works for Solo Piano - Volume 13
Rondo in C major, WoO 48 (1783) [2:30]
Rondo in A major, WoO 49 (1783) [2:41]
Rondo in B flat major, Kinsky-Halm Anh. 6 [7:10]
Rondo in C major, Op. 51 No. 1 (1796-97) [5:58]
Rondo in C major, Op. 52 No. 2 (1800?) [9:06]
Rondo a Capriccio in G major, Op.129 (1795-98?) [5:59]
Ecossaise in E flat major, WoO 86 (1825) [0:20]
Six Ecossaises, WoO 83 (c. 1806?) [2:09]
Andante in F major, WoO 57 (1809) [8:50]
Fantasie, Op.77 (1800?) [9:40]
Polonaise in C major, Op. 89 (1814) [5:21]
Klavierstück ‘Für Elise’ (1810, rev. 1822) [3:35]
Andante Maestoso in C major (1826) [3:11]
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
rec. August 2013, Österåker Church, Stockholm
BIS BIS-SACD-1892 [68:28]

Ronald Bruatigam’s excellent series of Beethoven’s complete solo piano works reaches volume 13 in a programme which spans the composer’s entire life. This spans from the earliest of his works in the Rondo in C major composed at the age of 13 to the Andante maestoso in C major in C major given the grand subtitle ‘Letzter musikalischer Gedanke’. The latter is in fact an arrangement, possibly by Anton Diabelli, of music for string quartet bought at the auction which followed Beethoven’s death in 1827. The original having been lost we don’t know how much of the piece is actually Beethoven’s work. It joins a fascinating feast of smaller works and infrequently heard rarities, and deserves plenty of attention.
As with the other volumes, this release oozes with quality, with joyous performances and the finest recording of some of the best fortepianos to be found anywhere: two stunning reproductions by Paul McNulty. You might expect Beethoven’s earliest work to be at the very least relatively simple, but the first two Rondos are packed with surprise and contrast, with Mozart-like twists of harmony. Even the dubious provenance of the Rondo in B flat doesn’t detract from the deliciously tricky little slides which pop up from time to time. The Opus 51 pair of Rondos are in fact entirely separate works in terms of date but are the products of Beethoven’s maturity, performed with sensitive dynamism by Brautigam. The tenderness of expression in the G major Op. 51 No. 1 is attributable to the composer’s making a present of it to one of his flames, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, to whom the ‘Moonlight’ sonata is dedicated.
The Rondo a Capriccio in G major, Op.129 has the superb subtitle “Die Wut über den verloren Groschen, ausgetobt in einer Caprice” or ‘The Rage over a Lost Penny’. This is certainly a forerunner of illustrative piano music for the early cinema, and its humorous tantrums and virtuoso passagework suit the title perfectly even if it was only a sales tactic added by Anton Schindler and used by Anton Diabelli on its publication.
Kicked off by the miniature but genuine Ecossaise in E flat, the set of dances WoO 86 are not definitively known to be by Beethoven but are nevertheless great fun. The Andante favori is one of the better known works in this collection, a divorcee from the ‘Waldstein’ sonata and treated to the later Conrad Graf instrument, where the earlier tracks are played on a Walter & Sohn model from around 1805. The softer, more modulated tone of this instrument might lead you to turn up your volume a little, through which you will be rewarded by its more generous depth, its dynamic contrasts explored to the full in the dramatic and improvisatory Fantasie Op.77.
The Polonaise in C major Op. 89 is a fine example of the style, and its story is ably outlined in Roeland Hazendonk’s excellent booklet notes. These also outline the reasons for interest in this version of Für Elise, which was tinkered with by the composer for proposed inclusion in a collection of Bagatelles but never made it into the Op.119 set. The differences between this and the famous original are easier to spot if you’ve tried to play the piece but in any case Ronald Brautigam manages to make it sound striking and original. The last track is the Andante maestoso dubbed Beethoven’s ‘last musical thought’ and, dated November 1826, was certainly sketched not long before the composer’s last illness, but predates further work on a tenth symphony and some other sundry jottings. It is an enigmatic little fragment and a poignant close to a fine collection of Beethoven’s piano pieces, played on a superlative instrument from his time by a performer at the top of his game.
Dominy Clements