A BEETHOVEN ODYSSEY - VOL.6
Piano Sonatas Nos.4, 11 & 12
Ludwig van Beethoven
JAMES BRAWN, piano
Click HERE to see James Brawn discussing Beethoven's Piano Sonatas.
"Listening to [the recordings], I am struck by James Brawn the musician, even more so than by James Brawn the pianist. Oh, certainly he can play the piano! But, then again, many, many pianists can play these notes. What makes Mr. Brawn's playing special is that these are some of the most musical readings I have yet encountered. He brings an almost symphonic grandness to them. Yet, he does so while remaining faithful to the printed page... Miraculously, the sound never turns bombastic or pounding like so many piano recordings do. (We certainly have Mr. Brawn's musicianship to thank for this as much as the recording, along with the marvelous piano he plays.) Jeremy Hayes, Producer, and Ben Connellan, Engineer, have truly mastered the art of recording the concert grand piano. And they capture the acoustic perfectly. Once heard, it is difficult to adjust to other recordings. A similar statement applies to Mr. Brawn's Beethoven: once heard, it is difficult to accept other readings. It is remarkable how consistently satisfying this cycle is, and how it so closely matches the way I like to hear Beethoven played. I have gained enormous pleasure from it and simply cannot stop listening to it."
David's Classical CDs [June 2020]
“The first thing some critics ask when a new cycle of Beethoven's piano sonatas or symphonies is presented is, “Do we need yet another set?” My answer is “Yes, if the performances are good and have a measure of individuality.” [James Brawn] is truly a cosmopolitan musician, but more importantly, an insightful and talented one. [Here in Volume 6] he once again impresses, both with his considerable keyboard skills and his way of finding pathways to Beethoven that sound fresh and imaginative. If there is one outstanding aspect about Brawn's interpretive acumen that I have noticed previously, it is his nearly unerring sense to capture the essence of the varied and often shifting moods in Beethoven's sonatas... MSR provides Brawn with vivid, state-of-the-art sonics to match the fine sound of his Steinway piano... James Brawn is competitive with the best; furthermore, he typically etches out his own interpretive path to give the listener a fresh, often distinctive view of these sonatas.”
Robert Cummings, MusicWeb International [February 2020]
"It is his approach to grace notes and ornaments that seems to set Brawn aside from other interpreters... He also gives the music great character applying attention to 'very loud' and 'very soft' moments in the score and everything in between... I get the impression Brawn has given much thought to these."
Lucas Ball, Classical Music Daily [November 2019]
"But by now, I think Brawn has proven himself a worthy contender in a field crowded with legends of the piano both living and dead... what I like about Brawn’s approach is the way in which he seems able to transform the tonal properties of his piano to bring out the unique ambiance of moods and sound worlds of each sonata... There is much to be said for the consistency of tone, temperament, and interpretive vision Brawn brings to Beethoven’s sonatas...This has shaped up to be a very fine series, and one, I believe, that has real staying power in an otherwise over-populated discography. Strongly recommended."
Jerry Dubins, Fanfare [November/December 2019]
[ * * * * ] "[This is] as competitive a series as is to be found in recent recording history... James Brawn displays the same sense of expectation and discovery we have come to expect in this admirable series, a flawless flight of lithe technical wizardry and intimate, sensitive pianism of the highest order."
Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition [November 2019]
"Having several other Brawn recordings in this series, I eagerly awaited the hearing of this one and was immensely pleased with how he captures the master’s intensity and virtuosity.Listening to these complex “grand” four movement sonatas as Brawn plays them, we appreciate how deeply he understands Beethoven and his music."
Joel C. Thompson, Cherry Grove Music Review [November 2019]
"There is plenty of technique but it does not dominate so much as allow Brawn to bring out the full Beethoven depth-of-field, to focus on the whole. Volume 6 does not disappoint and will make you want to hear the others. It is a worthwhile use of your time and listening energies. Brawn is a poet laureate of the ivories, indeed. Bravo."
Grego Applegate Edwards [September 2019]
"On all of them Brawn plays with that particular balance of fire and elegance that is uniquely necessary to effectively convey Beethoven’s genius. All classical collections would be well advised to follow the progress of this series."
Rick Anderson, CD HotList [October 2019]
"Brawn’s excellent performances...are very impressive: Brawn is a thoughtful pianist who draws attention not to his own technique but to the intricacies of the music, and that approach works very well in these sonatas... As in his five earlier recordings in this series, Brawn plays cleanly and with feeling, delving into the sonatas’ proto-Romantic elements without overdoing them and without exaggerating the works’ tempos or rhythms. His focus on getting the dynamics right is notable... [Brawn's] approach to his instrument is as well-considered and tasteful as is his handling of the sonatas themselves."
Mark J. Estren, InfoDad [October 2019]
“RECORDING OF THE MONTH. The stylistic innovations wrought by the composer in the Sonatas…rival the most momentous advancements in Western culture, but, as pianist James Brawn’s Beethoven Odyssey on MSR Classics avers, recognition of the marvels of the individual Sonatas is enhanced when they are assessed cumulatively, via the work of a musician who fully comprehends and conveys each Sonata’s rightful place among its brethren… Like Brawn’s playing of each Sonata, the present disc is both an extraordinary achievement in its own right and an aptly evocative, searching continuation of the pianist’s Beethoven Odyssey… In the course of James Brawn’s Beethoven Odyssey to date, the pianist’s astounding technical acumen has accomplished many wonders, one of the most exciting of which is the spontaneity that he imparts in impeccably-rehearsed performances… It is possible that the significance of Beethoven’s work has been unnecessarily aggrandized, but the value of A Beethoven Odyssey cannot be overstated. This sixth volume reminds the listener that, 192 years after Beethoven’s death, his music still surprises, stimulates, and satisfies, particularly when played as it is on this disc.”
Joey Newsome, Voix des Arts [September 2019]
"Artist Quality: 8 | Sound Quality: 8. [Brawn] favors lean textures and crisp articulation that complements Beethoven’s essentially linear aesthetic... The B-flat Op.22 sonata elicits one of Brawn’s finest performances in his cycle. He captures both the first movement’s deadpan humor and momentary petulant outbursts, while the Minuetto’s cameo-like lightness evokes memories of Wilhelm Kempff’s classic interpretation... One should mention the pianist’s well-written booklet notes, which are musically informative from a deeply personal perspective. MSR’s close-up, slightly dry perspective seems right for Brawn’s conceptions. Overall, Brawn’s Beethoven has grown more assured and direct with each successive volume in this cycle, and I look forward to the next installments"
Jed Distler, Classics Today [September 2019]
"'A Beethoven Odyssey' once again lives up to its name, with Volume 6 proving even more of an adventure than we’ve been accustomed to expect. That may be in part because of the unfamiliarity of the offerings [which are] brim-full of musical substance in their own right. They require an artist like Brawn, in whom technique and musicality are in equal balance, someone who is capable of taking the many surprises that must have made Beethoven’s audiences gasp with delight (or dismay) at the composer’s daring inventiveness taken en passant, as it were, instead of pausing to announce that something new is about to happen. Add in Brawn’s innate sense of the poetry in the music and his insight as a scholar, and you have the ideal pianist to bring three neglected early masterworks to life, none of which had previously made anything like the impression on me that they do here."
Phil Muse, Atlanta Audio Club [June 2019]
The three “Grand” sonatas recorded on this disc
– No.4, Op.7; No.11, Op.22; and No.12, Op.26 – were composed by Beethoven between 1796 and 1801. They are all four movement works in the flat keys of E-flat, B-flat and A-flat major, respectively, and were each published separately.
began his career at age 12 with an Australian debut in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.25, K.503. Brawn credits subsequent achievements to the great pianists with whom he has studied, taking pride in teachers who trace their pedagogical lineage back to Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and Clara Schumann. Yet he has forged his own musical path as well as a soloist, chamber musician and pedagogue. Born in England in 1971, his career in music began 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 family moved to Australia the following year, where he studied with Margaret Schofield, Ronald Farren-Price and Rita Reichman, winning major prizes at all the Melbourne competitions and the Hephzibah Menuhin Award, presented by Yehudi Menuhin. In 1987, Brawn reached the concerto final of the ABC Young Performers Awards, which led to concerts with the Adelaide and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras. He continued private study with Rita Reichman in Philadelphia on a grant from the Australia Arts Council, and in 1988 received a full scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he won many recital awards, including the Beethoven Prize and 20th Century Prize. At age 19, Brawn won the Keyboard Final of the Royal Over-Seas League Music Competition at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, which resulted in solo recitals and chamber music partnerships at music societies and festivals across the UK. From 1993-2001, Brawn taught piano and chamber music at King’s College and St. John’s College schools in Cambridge. In 2001, he returned to Australia to take up a piano teaching position at highly regarded Scotch College, where he co-founded the biennial Scotch College Piano Festival. Brawn has recorded for RTHK Radio 4 in Hong Kong, SMG Classical in Shanghai, ABC Classic FM, and 3MBS radio in Melbourne. He returned to the United Kingdom in 2010, performing regular solo recitals in London, including St. James’s Piccadilly, Blackheath Halls, Foundling Museum, The Forge, Royal Over-Seas League and St. Olave Church. Significant engagements include recitals at Chichester Cathedral, Cheltenham Town Hall, 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, and studied chamber music with members of the Amadeus and Chilingirian Quartets. Recitals have taken him to France, Italy, China, Canada and the United States. Recent Beethoven concerto performances in the UK have been with the Surrey Mozart Players, English Symphony and Capriol Chamber Orchestras. In 2015, James Brawn was made a Steinway Artist and in 2016 he joined the piano faculty of the FaceArt Institute of Music, Shanghai. [ www.jamesbrawn.com
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
PIANO SONATA NO.4 IN E-FLAT MAJOR, OP.7 (1796-97)
I. Allegro molto e con brio
II. Largo, con gran espressione
III. Allegro & Minore
IV. Rondo (Poco Allegretto e grazioso)
PIANO SONATA NO.12 IN A-FLAT MAJOR, OP.26 (1800-01)
I. Andante con variazioni
II. Scherzo (Allegro molto) & Trio
III. Marcia Funebre sulla morte d’un Eroe. Maestoso andante
PIANO SONATA NO.11 IN B-FLAT MAJOR, OP.22 (1799-1800)
I. Allegro con brio
II. Adagio con molta espressione
III. Minuetto & Minore
IV. Rondo (Allegretto)