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Piano Sonatas Nos.2, 17 and 26

Ludwig van Beethoven




“With this recording, Brawn moves closer to the half-way mark of his journey and the rewards from accompanying him, or just going along for the ride, keep on coming.... he keeps the texture clear... [Brawn’s interpretations are] continuously fresh approach and emotional breadth.”
O'Connell The Music [October 2016]
“James Brawn’s Beethoven sonata series may be the most exciting cycle currently being recorded. A pianist in his mid-forties, Brawn had, until this series began, been primarily known as a teacher in Australia and a mainstay of the recital circuit in the UK and Commonwealth. As it turns out, he is also a supremely intelligent Beethoven performer... Brawn favours using the full dynamic range and expressive capabilities of the modern Steinway... [his playing is] clear, dignified, authoritative... robust and hearty... when you live with Brawn’s Beethoven for a month or two, as I have in preparing this review, you only grow more impressed... James Brawn’s Beethoven sonata cycle has a chance to be one of the best of its decade.”
Brian Reinhart, MusicWeb International [October 2015]
“James Brawn's growing series of the complete Beethoven Sonatas reveals him to be a naturally impressive artist in this repertoire... there is no doubt that Brawn is a deeply committed and intensely musical interpreter of Beethoven. These performances seem to us to be of the kind that one must take very seriously, and we look forward keenly to further releases in a cycle that could well turn out to be one of the more significant to have been released for some time. The recording quality is first-class... a genuine Beethoven interpreter.”
Robert Matthew-Walker [Musical Opinion, August 2015]
“[Brawn] combines an easy spontaneity and symphonic gravitas in a way rarely encountered on disc since the balmy days of Daniel Barenboim's famous 1960s cycle for EMI. An outstanding Beethovenian: crystal-clear fingerwork, interpretive urgency, harmonically sensitive micro-pedaling, a natural instinct for symphonic structure, arresting yet never over-emphatic sforzandos, super-fast dynamic reflexes, the ability to find wonderment at the way Beethoven re-contextualizes the conventional to create something entirely new and original, and a freshness of spontaneity free of cluttering reverential rhetoric.”
Julian Haylock, International Record Review [March 2015]
“I won't spend time on the question of whether we need yet another set of these thirty-two masterworks, because high artistry is always welcome even in heavily traversed repertory. And what we have here is high artistry indeed. Brawn plays Beethoven in a most imaginative way, often making you hear the music in a different manner. Even when he is fairly straightforward his interpretations still have personality and invention, mainly because he knows how to phrase the music with the utmost sensitivity and intelligence. His tempo selections are never extreme and nearly always come across as a perfect fit for his individual approach, and his wide ranging dynamics are deftly applied with consistency. But there's also that thing you can't always put your finger on here: Brawn's unerring sense for capturing the mood in the music, whether it be sadness, mischief, humor, tragedy, anxiety, or a mixture of these. He always seems on target... The first movement of the 'Tempest' Sonata is agitated and driven in Brawn's performance, but also quite muscular. The tempestuousness is virtually unrelenting, for even the alternating moments of repose seem to prepare us uneasily for the turbulence ahead... this again is a great performance... Brawn finds as much color and ambivalence in the 'Les Adieux'... the finale brims with joy, but hearty and robust joy in this brilliant performance. The sonics provided by MSR Classics are very clear and powerful and the Steinway piano used has a very excellent sound... Over the years I have reviewed numerous individual Beethoven sonata discs here as well as the complete survey by Daniel Barenboim on video in 2013. In addition to Barenboim, many pianists come to mind in this repertory, like Brendel, Ashkenazy, Goode, Schnabel... James Brawn thus far must be considered among the cream of the crop in this challenging repertory. Beethoven sonata mavens will certainly want to consider adding these discs to their collection – and keep a watchful eye on those that follow. Strongly recommended.”
Robert Cummings, ClassicalNet [March 2015]
“[the] third disc in James Brawn’s impressive Beethoven Odyssey”
John Pitt, New Classics, UK [March 2015]
"Beethoven's 'Tempest' sonata rages so grippingly that it blows you away! One is tempted to say (like Mozart said about Beethoven), 'Watch out for that boy!' "
Udo Bauer, Schubert Society of Britain [February 2015]
TOP 10 RECORDINGS - Notable Classical Recordings of 2014
Jonathan Blumhofer, ArtsFuse, Boston [December 2014]
"A fresh voice in the musical firmament, James Brawn impresses the listener with his interpretations of Beethoven, by the perfect balance between a very personal reading combined with the most meticulous ear - and fingers - for detail in the written text"
Alberto Portugheis, Beethoven Piano Society of Europe [2014]
“This third volume [of Brawn's Odyssey series] advances the ball, starting with an assertive 2 that doesn’t pull any punches; the pianist sees this early work as more forward-looking than pre-romantic. The Tempest (17) is free of idiosyncrasies and is exceptionally well-played... There are many fine moments in Les Adieux, particularly the nuances on display in the first two movements... Notes from the pianist and first-rate sonics complete a package that holds considerable promise for the next six chapters.”
Koldys, American Record Guide [November/December 2014]
“What unites the performances [of the range of Beethoven's Sonatas] is Brawn's authoritative sense of shape and sonority. So far, his playing has been the epitome of lucidity, elegance and drama. There is every reason to expect that his complete set of the sonatas will be a triumphant achievement.”
Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone [December 2014]
“Brawn shows every sign of thinking beyond the mere technical aspects of these works. In the early (1797) Sonata Op. 2 No 2, he keeps the music in proportion – this was still the Classical era – but also understands that the young Beethoven had a rough edge (bracingly evident in Brawn’s accented bass notes) and a sharp sense of humour... Brawn rightly brings more romantic ardour to the sturm und drang of the middle-period sonatas. His urgency in the tempestuous allegro of No 17 does not undermine the necessary Classical poise, while contrasting moments of calm are presented with sensitivity and clarity. Beethoven had a reputation as an improviser at the piano, and there is a real sense of this in Brawn’s playing... Sonata No 26, Les Adieux, can sometimes elude even the greatest Beethoven pianists. Its course is highly varied, both musically and dramatically. Brawn shapes every fleeting change of emphasis in the first movement, and even more so in the inward-looking Andante espressivo. His Vivacissimamente finale opens with a virtual explosion of joy and never lets up. Here is a true virtuoso at work. The best so far in a fine series.”
Phillip Scott, Limelight Magazine [November 2014]
“[***** / 5-Star]... purely excellent... the sound is warm and analog-like, a perfect antidote to some of the brighter and more egregiously flashy productions that have appeared recently. Brawn seems particularly attuned to the Beethovenian muse, rowdy when needed, delicate and actually ravishing in instances that so often appear in the midst of Beethoven’s turbulence... Brawn’s touch is perfect, his tone excellent, and his technique beyond reproach. Top it off with some interpretative finesse that matches any I have heard in recent years and you have a set that will be very hard to top when completed.”
Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition [November 2014]
“Volume 3 gives us an idea of James Brawn's acute sensitivity to the Beethoven... Certainly on this volume we hear a real artist at work... I find James Brawn a deeply appropriate medium to realize Beethoven as he might himself have most appreciated... If further volumes are true to form, and I see no reason to doubt that, this will be a cornerstone edition of the complete sonatas. One with a constancy of faithfulness to the composer of wonderful piano music. It can stand alongside more flamboyant versions as a kind of benchmark, weather vane, a cornerstone, a standard by which others might be measured... Have a listen and see if you don't agree. James Brawn is Beethoven on this disk. He is the channeling of the Beethoven ethos, personified if you will. Bravo.”
Gapplegate Classical Review [October 2014]
“...despite the intense competition, especially in the two named sonatas, the “Tempest” and “Les Adieux,” Brawn continues not just to hold his own among leading contenders, but to impress with much to offer that is his own... [In the] “Tempest” Sonata, I can’t recall ever hearing the movement played with the sense of urgency Brawn brings to it. It’s not that his fingers necessarily move any faster than those of other pianists who play the piece—Pollini or Fazil Say, for instance—but it’s the lightness of his touch on the eighth notes groups beginning with the upbeat to bar 42 that conveys a sense of breathless, panicked flight from some pursuing peril about to overtake him. This is a tremendously gripping performance of the piece, terrifying and thrilling at the same time. With equal technical finesse and musical insight, Brawn handles the extreme tempo and mood contrasts of the “Les Adieux” Sonata as surely and sensitively as anyone I’ve heard play it. Brawn’s Steinway is captured in stunning sound on this full-range, dynamic recording made in Suffolk’s Potton Hall in July 2013. This is definitely shaping up to be one of the finest recent Beethoven piano sonata surveys to come down the pike, and with it James Brawn has established himself as a major keyboard artist. Strongest recommendation.”
Jerry Dubins , Fanfare [November/December 2014]
[ * * * * of 5] Brawn’s thoughtful and vital pianism brings Beethoven to life. “This is the third in the Beethoven sonata series, played by Englishborn,sometime Australian resident, James Brawn... Brawn shows every sign of thinking beyond the mere technical aspects of these works. In the early (1797) Sonata Op. 2 No 2, he keeps the music in proportion but also understands that the young Beethoven had a rough edge and a sharp sense of humour... Brawn rightly brings more romantic ardour to the sturm und drang of the middle-period sonatas. His urgency in the tempestuous allegro of No 17 does not undermine the necessary Classical poise... Beethoven had a reputation as an improviser at the piano, and there is a real sense of this in Brawn’s playing. Sonata No 26, Les Adieux, can sometimes elude even the greatest Beethoven pianists. Its course is highly varied, both musically and dramatically. Brawn shapes every fleeting change of emphasis in the first movement, and even more so in the inward-looking Andante espressivo. His Vivacissimamente finale opens with a virtual explosion of joy and never lets up. Here is a true virtuoso at work.”
Limelight Magazine [September 2014]
“[In James Brawn’s latest “Beethoven Odyssey” CD] There are...a couple of particularly interesting elements to this MSR Classics offering. [In the Sonata No.2] his controlled expressiveness serves the music well, not only in No. 2 but in all the sonatas here. And the sonic environment helps, too: it is the other especially worthy element of this recording, allowing Brawn both warmth and expansiveness that, together, produce an intimacy in his performances approximating that of a recital hall rather than a large concert space. [ * * * ] ”
Mark J. Estren, InfoDad [August 2014]
“The ultimate goal that any musician must endeavor to attain should not be technical bravado, stage charisma or fame. As a matter of fact, it's the complete opposite. If a pianist can remove himself, and his instrument, from the sonic picture or, in other words, pull you the listener in so deep within the musical narrative that you lose track of the fact that there's a human being pounding away on a keyboard, then I would say it's ‘fait accompli’… with this, the third volume in his traversal of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, he is well on his way of reaching that level of musicianship that sets performers apart. His Beethoven is lucid, direct, and most importantly, real…”
Jean-Yves Duperron, Classical Music Sentinel [July 2014]
“The third installment of James Brawn’s Beethoven piano sonata survey picks up right where the second left off: brilliantly played and insightfully interpreted. Brawn’s precision of attack is most striking in the album’s opening work, the A major Sonata...which receives a reading as crisp and flowing as they come.. All four movements are voiced with immaculate clarity... Appropriately, it is nearly all shadows in the ‘Tempest’ Sonata... Brawn’s performance is characteristically individual. The outer movements are stormy, but in an understated way: you’re almost drawn into the drama of the music without realizing what’s happening... the whole performance [marries] bewitching subtlety and awesome power... Even more impressive is Brawn’s account of ‘Les Adieux.’ Here there’s a wonderful balance between the glittering, facile technical element...and a great depth of expression... this is a reading that manages to be familiar yet genuinely exciting, inevitable but still spontaneous. Out of nearly a dozen fine recordings Brawn’s already made of the Beethoven sonatas, his ‘Les Adieux’ rises to (or very near to) the top... Producer Jeremy Hayes and recording engineer Ben Connellan deserve about as much credit as Brawn for their crystalline rendering of the music’s often-busy textures. Throughout the disc, Brawn draws out a wealth of tonal shadings...that add richly to the expressive depth of these performances.”
Jonathan Blumhofer, ArtsFuse, Boston [July 2014]
“[ * * * * * 5 Stars] The contours of James Brawn's Beethoven Odyssey are becoming increasingly clear. From the very start of the second sonata, ... he impresses us with his superb creative mastery. [Brawn] succeeds in conceptually linking the movements and in seeing Beethoven's distinct thoughts as part of an overarching idea. In this early sonata, Brawn takes excellent advantage of the dynamic possibilities that the piano offers him. Yet this stands out even more in ‘The Tempest’... No virtuoso speed contests here. But there is lots of stormy rumbling of variable intensity and colour that sheds light on Beethoven's inner agitation... [Brawn shows] his creative imagination is at the same level of excellence as his technical abilities. In ‘Les Adieux’, Brawn’s persuasive use of musical language also leads to extremely concise playing with well-founded emphases, rubatos and other means of formal organisation that are always entirely at the service of the music... In addition to his technical abilities, James Brawn has the imagination and artistry to fully express Beethoven’s ideas and anxieties in a very dramatic and contrasting way.”
Remy Franck, Pizzicato Magazine Luxembourg [July 2014]
“James Brawn's Beethoven Odyssey is gaining the pianist - and his label - an international reputation... One of the joys of recordings is that a performance - sometimes from an unexpected source - can throw new light on a familiar work. One year into his Beethoven Odyssey, James Brawn and his US label MSR Classics - neither of them internationally renowned names - have done that for many critics. Brawn's accounts of the piano sonatas have been compared favourably with those from illustrious artists such as Schnabel, Barenboim and Schiff...”
Phil Sommerich, Classical Music Magazine [July 2014]
“The keenly-awaited Volume 3 of James Brawn‟s “Beethoven Odyssey” has now appeared. And it was worth waiting for. Brawn continues an incisive exploration of what he himself describes as ‘the New Testament’ of piano repertoire by following the interpretive suggestions in the scores themselves. He takes them big, making this release perhaps the best installment yet in a treasurable series.”
Phil Muse, Audio Club of Atlanta [July 2014]
“What makes a great Beethoven interpreter? That’s very difficult to define but James Brawn has all the elusive qualities needed. In all of his Beethoven recordings to date he has shown a fine technique, wonderful control of dynamics, beautiful phrasing, pacing and sense of structure and a fine rubato. Most of all it is his sheer musicianship that shines through... James Brawn’s Beethoven is really rather special, allying fine musicianship with a superb technique that produces Beethoven playing of the highest order... Beautifully recorded by Jeremy Hayes and Ben Connellan at Potton Hall, Suffolk, England and with excellent notes, this is looking to be a Beethoven Piano Sonata cycle to reckon with.”
The Classical Reviewer [May 2014]
“Pianist James Brawn has already proved himself to the world as a first-rate interpreter and technician. The first two installments of his Beethoven Odyssey are crisp, articulate, and full of invention. But Brawn's real journey begins with this disc, for in it, he enters a realm quite apart from that of his first essays. In the liner notes that accompany Volume 3, we read that 'each note and phrase in every movement must feel and sound just right to [Brawn]'. Granted, this reads like a cliché — a stock phrase to be found in the booklet of almost any CD — but it is anything but. One can literally hear the workings of Brawn's artistic mind at every moment. His attention to detail is exceptional, and his interpretive choices are exquisite... [In Op.2 No.2] Brawn takes all of the repeats. Unlike many pianists who do the same, however, he does not give us the same music twice... Similar instances of contextual shading pervade Brawn's playing. The third iteration of the opening theme (at the onset of the recapitulation), for example, demonstrates his tremendous sensitivity to slight alterations in the form... In addition to his fine control over volume, Brawn displays a masterful handling of articulation. The degree to which he separates the right-hand and left-hand 'characters' of the second movement is exemplary. Only a handful of recordings express the main theme's basic idea of two distinct gestures gradually merging into one. This is one of them... Brawn's playing [of the 'Tempest'] is spellbinding from the first note to the last. His ear for resonance in the expressive opening chords is astounding, as is his sense of large-scale dynamic arcs. The main theme is perfectly sculpted from two different stones, such that we feel the conflict — the desperate pleas — at the work's very heart. Few recordings to date match Brawn's delivery of the work's emotional content. And none match his profound grasp of the famous con espressione e semplice passage, which is crowned by one of the most expressive uses of the sostenuto pedal on record... Brawn has an immense talent for modulating between drastically different characters from one measure to the next... And so Brawn's third of nine recordings ends on a very different note than that with which it began. As the final chord dies away, the listener is left to contemplate their profound journey — one that bore witness not only to the evolution of Beethoven's compositional style, but also to the spiritual transformation of an exceptional pianist... Great artists attract the most scrupulous of critiques, only because their playing warrants an attentive ear at each and every turn, no matter how small. Brawn's work is now at that stage. 'Each note and phrase in every movement' will be pored over by attentive ears, and as the critics nitpick over the minute details of fleeting moments, we will nod our heads, not necessarily in agreement, but in affirmation of a single, unassailable fact: James Brawn has made it. Remember that name.”
Andrew Schartmann, Music & Vision [May 2014]

Recording ‘A Beethoven Odyssey’

In the summer of 2013, James Brawn travelled two hundred miles from his home in the Cotswolds to Suffolk on the east coast of England near Aldeburgh. His producer, Jeremy Hayes, lives at Potton Hall. Hayes converted a barn on the property into a studio. Surrounded by fields and forest, it is far removed from the routines of daily life, which makes this an idyllic recording location.

The team has just three days to record four Beethoven sonatas: Op. 2 No. 2, ‘The Tempest’, and ‘Les Adieux’ for volume 3, and Op. 78 for volume 4. In order to reacquaint himself with the Steinway piano, James arrives the night before. His longtime piano tuner, Peter Law, joins him. James quickly familiarises himself with the Steinway’s action and wonderfully warm sound. The entire group - pianist James Brawn, producer Jeremy Hayes, tuner Peter Law, and sound engineer Ben Connellan - convenes in the studio on day one. As with Brawn’s previous recordings at Potton Hall, he will begin by performing the entire programme without a break. Fully aware of the musical and technical challenges that all performances entail, Brawn feels the usual mixture of trepidation and excitement. Nothing demands more of a pianist than Beethoven! Brawn’s goal is to create something special, honest and convincing, which means that each note and phrase in every movement must feel and sound just right to him.

The release of A Beethoven Odyssey - Volume 3 brings the project to nearly the halfway point. Brawn has opted to include all repeats and therefore expects to record nine volumes, four of which – 15 sonatas out of 32 in all - should be completed in 2014.

Pianist James Brawn began his solo career at age 12 with an Australian debut in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25. Brawn traces his professional achievements to study with major teachers whose pedagogical lineage goes back to Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and Clara Schumann. Yet he has also forged his own musical path in solo and chamber music performance. Born in England in 1971, his musical life started in New Zealand, where he began piano lessons at age seven. He played Bartók on New Zealand television and won his first awards in Auckland. The following year his family moved to Australia, where he studied with Margaret Schofield, Ronald Farren-Price and Rita Reichman. He won major prizes at all of the Melbourne competitions and was also a recipient of the Hephzibah Menuhin Award. In 1987, Brawn reached the concerto final of the ABC Young Performers Awards, which led to concerts with the Adelaide and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras. Thanks to a grant from the Australia Arts Council, he was able to continue study with Rita Reichman in Philadelphia. In 1988, Brawn received a full scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he won numerous recital awards, including the Beethoven Prize and 20th Century Prize. Brawn won the Keyboard Final of the Royal Over-Seas League Music Competition at the Queen Elizabeth Hall when he was just 19. Solo recitals and chamber music partnerships at music societies and festivals in the UK followed. From 1993-2001, Brawn taught piano and chamber music at King’s College and St. John’s College schools in Cambridge. He returned to Australia in 2001 to take up a piano teaching position at the highly regarded Scotch College, where he co-founded the biennial Scotch College Piano Festival. He returned to the United Kingdom in 2010 and is currently based in the Cotswolds. Brawn regularly performs solo recitals in London at St. James’s Piccadilly, Blackheath Halls, Foundling Museum, The Forge, Royal Over-Seas League, and St. Olave Church. Among his most significant engagements to date are the Bösendorfer concert series at St. Mary Magdalene and the ‘Pianists of the World’ series at St.Martin-in-the-Fields. Brawn has performed in master classes with András Schiff, Tamás Vásáry, Menahem Pressler and Stephen Kovacevich. He has also studied chamber music with members of the Amadeus and Chilingirian Quartets. Recital performances have taken him to Paris, Sicily, Hong Kong, Brunei and New Orleans.


I. Allegro vivace
II. Largo appassionato
III. Scherzo (Allegretto) & Trio (Minore)
IV. Rondo (Grazioso)

I. Largo – Allegro
II. Adagio
III. Allegretto

I. Adagio – Allegro (Das Lebewohl / Les Adieux)
II. Andante espressivo (Abwesenheit / L’Absence)
III. Vivacissimamente (Das Wiedersehen / Le Retour)

MSR Classics
The Time Traveller and His Muse JAMES BRAWN

Piano Sonatas Nos.9, 15, 24, 25 and 27 JAMES BRAWN


Piano Sonatas No.8 "Pathetique", JAMES BRAWN

Piano Sonatas Nos.1, 3 & 23 JAMES BRAWN