A BEETHOVEN ODYSSEY - VOL.8
Piano Sonatas Nos.13, 16, 18 & 22
Ludwig van Beethoven
JAMES BRAWN, piano
"It’s been over ten years since James Brawn’s “A Beethoven Odyssey” series began. Like the rest of us, Brawn is ten years older, but it’s a pleasure to know – by the evidence of this volume – that we have the same artist, with fingers as supple as ever and musical sensibilities very much intact... Overall, I’ll simply summarize what John Puccio and I have said about previous albums in this series: playing that consistently just sounds right, combined with exemplary recorded sound. What’s not to like?"
Bill Heck, Classical Candor [July 2023]
“[in the G Major Sonata No.16] you can enjoy Brawn’s unfaltering clarity… [in No.18 in E-flat major] Brawn keeps the pleasures coming smoothly… across all four of these sonatas, you can rely on this pianist to give full measure to each note’s rhythmic value, even when the part-writing verges on the complex; everything is in its place and subsidiary elements are given as much care as dominant melodic lines… Brawn keeps a cool head throughout.”
O’Connell the Music [May 2023]
“There is no doubt that Brawn is a deeply committed and intensely musical interpreter of Beethoven.”
“I’m not satisfied with what I’ve composed up to now. From now on I intend to embark on a new path.” So Beethoven declared in his usual laconic fashion to his violinist and mandolin virtuoso friend Wenzel Krumpholz, possibly during the composition of the piano sonatas Opp.26-28.
“God knows why my piano music still makes the worst impression on me, especially when it is badly played!” Beethoven wrote in a sketch-book in 1801.The first steps on the new path certainly started that year, with the Piano Sonata in A-flat major, Op.26, whose unusual order of events and funeral march “For the death of a hero” suggest that the astonishing breakthrough of the Eroica Symphony was already looming.
Beethoven’s prolific output of new works in 1801 included the two piano sonatas published as Op.27, which carry the unorthodox arrangement of movements even further than Op.26, each of the works bearing the disarming subtitle “Quasi una fantasia”, though the inescapable nickname “Moonlight” for Op.27 No.2 was certainly not the composer’s.
Beethoven marked the four movements of the strangely personal Sonata No.13 in E-flat major, Op.27 No.1, to be played without a break, adding to the overall impression of a free-form improvisation. The serene, enigmatic and almost childlike opening Andante is interrupted by the shadowy and ghostly scherzo, a scurrying Allegro, which is followed by the Adagio slow movement, reminiscent of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. This acts as a long introduction to the finale, a buoyant rondo into which the slow movement intrudes again near the end before the closing Presto, which recalls both the theme of the finale and the start of the first movement. Thus Beethoven unifies and draws the whole work together.
Like many Viennese, Beethoven spent part of his summer months in the country, and he seemed to find both relaxation and inspiration in the peaceful contemplation of nature, taking sketchbooks on his walks to note down ideas and elaborate them when he returned home. In 1802, possibly on the advice of his doctor, or simply to shun society, he retired to the nearby village of Heiligenstadt for a longer period than usual. There, Beethoven was visited by Ferdinand Ries for lessons, and worked on, among other things, the Op.31 piano sonatas and his Second Symphony. However, Heiligenstadt was to give its name to the extraordinary document of depression and despair, in fact a Testament, which Beethoven addressed to his two brothers in 1802 shortly before his return to Vienna.
It is possible to interpret the Heiligenstadt Testament as the culmination and resolution of some desperate fantasy, a kind of death-wish to be endured for the sake of a new philosophy, a new resignation, a greater will-power. As Beethoven remarked in a letter at that time: “I will seize Fate by the throat; it shall certainly not bend and crush me completely.” Within days of the Testament, after his return to Vienna, Beethoven wrote to a publisher that the music which he had recently composed, “is worked out in quite a new manner…in a separate and different way.”
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.13 IN E-FLAT MAJOR, OP.27 NO.1
‘QUASI UNA FANTASIA’ (1800-01)
I. Andante – Allegro
II. Allegro molto e vivace
III. Adagio con espressione
IV. Allegro vivace
PIANO SONATA NO.16 IN G MAJOR, OP.31 NO.1 (1801-02)
I. Allegro vivace
II. Adagio grazioso
III. Rondo (Allegretto)
PIANO SONATA NO.18 IN E-FLAT MAJOR, OP.31 NO.3
‘THE HUNT’ (1801-02)
II. Scherzo (Allegretto vivace)
III. Menuetto & Trio (Moderato e grazioso)
IV. Presto con fuoco
PIANO SONATA NO.22 IN F MAJOR, OP.54 (1804)
I. In Tempo d’un Menuetto
II. Allegretto – Più allegro