A BEETHOVEN ODYSSEY - VOL.7
Piano Sonatas Nos.30, 31 & 32
Ludwig van Beethoven
JAMES BRAWN, piano
"These three readings have in common a sense of continuity from phrase to phrase and section to section, which bespeaks a deep connection with the music that doesn’t need external showiness. Intimacy exerts a different hold. At first an experienced listener might be startled to hear how frequently Brawn brings down the louder dynamics and more abrupt juxtapositions in the score. But he’s never like opera singers marking their part by using mezzo voce. Brawn quietly probes the music for meaning and expression as few other Beethoven pianists can... In the end I find myself totally agreeing with Jerry Dubins, who has covered the earlier installments in this cycle: 'This is very beautiful playing that strikes a sympathetic chord in me and resonates on an emotional level.'... This is by any measure an exception, however. The recital as a whole indicates that a masterful pianist is at work."
Huntley Dent, Fanfare [September/October 2023]
"Judging by the high production values of this album, and the cycle as a whole, one can only await James Brawn’s completion of his Beethoven odyssey with open arms."
Dr. Chang Tou Liang, Pianomania [September 2023]
"I like the first movement of No.31], which has a quiet dignity and a gentle sense of pacing... [Movement II of No.32] is very good indeed; it unfolds leisurely, and the drier approach curiously adds to the overall effect of introspection. In fact, I’d go as far to as to say it’s the best performance of this movement known to me. (I am not forgetting Brendel, Arrau, Kovacevich, and others.)"
Haskins, American Record Guide [July/August 2023]
"[In Reviewer John Puccio's reviews of earlier volumes], he consistently praises Brawn’s playing, and as I agree wholeheartedly with his sentiments, allow me to share a few quotes here. '…an interpretation…carefully planned around the composer's wishes, so while it is clearly Brawn's reading, it remains Beethoven's music' and 'his playing is thoughtful and purposeful as well as thoroughly entertaining.', and the obligatory mention of technical capability '…pianistic virtuosity that is quite dazzling.' 'Brawn's work always feels consistently right'... Back to my own words: Brawn’s interpretations not only sound right in total; within each piece the choices that he makes – changes (or not) of tempo, slight emphasis on particular notes or lines to bring them forward (or the opposite), and so on – all sound organically correct, parameters necessitated by the overall conception of the work. In other words, the music flows forth and carries you along with the feeling that all is exactly as it should be... There’s another dimension, though, that is the 'secret superpower' of this series, and that is the superb, natural recorded sound... the MSR recording team, headed by producer Jeremy Hayes and engineer Ben Connellan, capture a startlingly natural and dynamic sound, bringing the music seemingly right in front of you, particularly in the often troublesome areas of the deeper bass registers and the high treble notes of the piano..."
Bill Heck, Classical Candor [June 2023]
"Brawn indeed plays expressively, his interpretation enhanced by the excellent engineering, which puts a bit more distance between listener and piano than is often the case, but without veering toward the overly resonant sound that shows up from time to time on some recordings. I must say that I am impressed by this new release, and not just for its sonic attributes. This will stay on my shelf right next to Uchida; believe me, that is high praise indeed... this new release on MSR exhibits some of the very finest recorded piano sound I have ever encountered. This is without question a highly recommendable release."
Karl Nehring, Classical Candor [June 2023]
"When I reviewed Brawn’s last volume...which featured Nos. 4, 11 and 12, I wrote, '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'.
Indeed, that quality is clearly in evidence in these new performances too, as expected... I had also noted in past reviews of entries in this series that Brawn’s tempos were well chosen and judicious, the finales in each of these three sonatas tend toward the expansive side, as Brawn probes for a deeper expressive approach... Jeremy Hayes’ album notes are very informative and the sound reproduction throughout each work is excellent. Speaking of sound, I find Brawn’s Hamburg Steinway D a most splendid choice for these sonatas.
I’ll say this about Brawn in his nearly complete cycle: he has consistently presented vital, often highly imaginative and sometimes startlingly individual accounts of these great works. Here, he turns out thoroughly impressive accounts of these last three very challenging sonatas. Highly recommended!"
Robert Cummings, MusicWeb International [May 2023]
"What we have in pianist James Brawn is an exacting and meticulous musician who scrupulously follows Ludwig van Beethoven's tempo indications and dynamic markings, and yet makes everything sound fresh and spontaneous... I would not hesitate to recommend James Brawn's interpretations to anyone interested in hearing Beethoven straight, no chaser."
Jean-Yves Duperron, Classical Music Sentinel [April 2023]
"If we might raise Beethoven from the dead and restore his hearing, we would hope he could agree with our rave unreserved assessments of pianist James Brawn’s superlative rendering of the classical master’s last three piano sonatas on the recently released MSR CD... Brawn [has balanced] his understanding of the scores of the sonatas with playing them accurately and using his virtuosity and skill to bring them to our ears and minds much as Beethoven intended."
Joel C. Thompson, Cherry Grove Music Review [April 2023]
[Concerning a performance given 5 August 2022] "Brawn's reputation as a Beethoven special precedes him, , and his recital was once again a testament to this... Brawn's playing displays interesting voicing, intricate and personal, but never self-indulgent rubato, technical assuredness and the noble use of power, where appropriate... This was a wonderful recital, given by a true Beethovenian."
Jan Loeffler, Beethoven Piano Society of Europe [March 2023]
"[This] CD is an excellent sample of Brawn’s powers in Beethoven performance. The three works are treated with a respect and firmness that reveal an intimate awareness of the composer’s demands and a fidelity to the works’ aesthetic compass – true to the drama, the gravity, the incredibly powerful impetus underpinning what can look on paper like ambling."
Clive O’Connell, O'Connell the Music [January 2023]
"take the way Brawn handles the gentle arpeggiations in the very opening of the Andante of No.30, like sparkling water or the gentlest of breezes floating in from some mysterious place, This, this, we feel is truly Beethoven speaking!"
Phil Muse, Atlanta Audio Club [January 2023]
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. 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, London. 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
(1770 - 1827)
PIANO SONATA NO.30 IN E MAJOR, OP.109 (1820)
I. Vivace, ma non troppo
III. Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo
PIANO SONATA NO.31 IN A-FLAT MAJOR, OP.110 (1821)
I. Moderato cantabile molto espressivo
II. Allegro molto
III. Adagio ma non troppo -- Fuga (Allegro ma non troppo)
PIANO SONATA NO.32 IN C MINOR, OP.111 (1821-22)
I. Maestoso -- Allegro con brio ed appassionato
II. Arietta (Adagio molto semplice e cantabile)
Recorded 18-20 July 2022 in Potton Hall, Suffolk, United Kingdom. Producer: Jeremy Hayes. Engineer: Ben Connellan.