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Volume 1

Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Liszt, Modest Mussorgsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff




Video: RECITAL IN CHINA [Mussorgsky]

“...the performance here [of the Bach prelude] is mobile and dutiful. The Liszt nocturne gives a fine instance of evenly applied left-hand support, letting the melody float on its path unchallenged... Brawn creates an imaginative creature in the Rachmaninov piece, revealing the its dark surges of energy carefully... [Brawn] shows a gift of perceptiveness in unifying the composer’s grinding keyboard mastery with that inescapable granitic melancholy... Brawn impresses in the Chaconne with his ease at negotiating inbuilt problems [and] he handles both rapid octaves and sixths passages with controlled rapidity... Liszt’s showpiece demands crispness at the outset and this player has its measure with finely clipped articulation before the main melody hits the ground and the whirlwind – with breaks – takes off... [Mussorgsky’s suite] takes pride of place in the CD and Brawn presents an involving reading of its familiar pages, untrammeled by distractions or superficiality.”
Clive O’Connell, O'Connell The Music [August 2016]
“True Command… When James Brawn released the first two volumes of his Beethoven Odyssey, he established himself as one of the greatest living interpreters of Hans von Bülow's 'New Testament'. As we eagerly awaited the third installment in that series, Brawn gave us another recording... And it just so happens to be brilliant. Rarely does a performance make words seem so frivolous, but here we are. I shall try, nevertheless, to offer some remarks on the veritable event to which my ears bore witness… With this program, Brawn proves his versatility as a pianist and his depth as an artist. Having now heard countless performances of this calibre from Brawn's workshop, I no longer wonder whether or not he will receive the international attention he deserves. I wonder only when the inevitable will happen.”
Andrew Schartmann, Music & Vision [October 2014]
“James Brawn is becoming a major pianistic force ...[These recordings] are highly polished ones. Especially good are the first two tracks, the Bach/Busoni Chaconne and Liszt’s famous Mephisto Waltz. Contrary to his name, Brawn is sensitive and subtle in the Bach/Busoni work, keeping his vision on the structure as a whole rather than momentary thrills... The Mephisto Waltz comes across a more satisfying whole than usual. [He finds] a fine middle-ground in which the structure of the piece holds perfectly and the playing is exciting... This is still an important artist”
Brian Reinhart, MusicWeb International [August 2014]
“...Brawn’s tremendous technique and good taste make this release worth one’s attention. The Chaconne is impressively controlled, with gorgeous linear phrasings and a rich use of harmony... He delivers a nuanced and powerful Pictures at an Exhibition, especially ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’, with incredible finesse. A superb recording.”
Kang, American Record Guide [July/August 2014]
“[ * * * * * ] I was much taken with Brawn’s Beethoven, and so this recital, part 1, was of particular interest to me... [the sound is] very warm…displaying Brawn’s lovely tone and dexterous technique. [Bach’s] Chaconne has always been a favorite of mine, and nicely done here… Brawn has a lot to offer [in the Mussorgsky]. Primarily his very dark, very Mussorgskian coloring… [the Mephisto is] fluid and quite exciting, relieved only by the Consolation that follows. The Rach is big, dark, chocolaty, and dense, just what this little work calls for. So all in all this is one hoot of a recital showing a voice on the international scene that begs attention. I just hope MSR keeps him and he doesn’t make the mistake of migrating to one of the major labels. Good stuff here.”
Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition [June 2014]
“Brawn convinces us of how a pianist takes meticulous care in understanding a composer’s nuances. Here we have it all wrapped up in one CD: sensitivity, flexibility, respectful translation. If one has never listened to this gentleman’s expertise, then perhaps this James Brawn in Recital would be a great place to start… Bach brackets the front and back end of this well-recorded and acoustically impeccable MSR Classics issue. [In the Chaconne] we find Mr. Brawn’s well-delineated detail of crisp and tight lines, each note struck on the keyboard with fine stamping. He makes each note seem as if it is the most important one found on the staff… James Brawn has complete command of interpreting the Lisztian sens de la répartie in commendable fashion. His fingers float nimbly across the keyboard in arresting fashion… His effort appears effortless, careful to take cautious pauses with the rests, all which helps elicit a Faustian flair in a wildly difficult composition… Brawn [makes] the most out of the beauty of Liszt’s movement with pensive, lyrical grace… [Listening to] James Brawn tackle [the Mussorgsky] is quite the treat. The pacing is thoughtful, never rushed, yet rushed where it need be. The piece makes Viktor Hartmann’s paintings piquantly come to life. This is a fine example of learning how dynamics play such an integral role in musically describing visual art… Brawn convinces us with his power and beauty in the keys that Sergei Rachmaninoff likely would have relished… Mr. Brawn possesses convincing display of these selected works. The artistry, the drive and the energy found within his fingers translate onto the piano in an overtly dignified manner.”
Christie Grimstad, ConcertoNet [June 2014]
“From the opening measures of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne that opens the recital, I sensed the touch of an important artist at work. Every nuance and shading of the work seems to have been carefully thought out in Brawn’s mind, and the variegated sections of Bach’s masterpiece both contrasted with each other, and formed an organic whole… Likewise, the following Liszt selections…are wonderfully and evocatively rendered. The Mephisto Waltz is crisply and cleanly articulated throughout, every note polished and put meticulously into its proper place. Ends of phrases are lovingly drawn out as though the pianist were reluctant to let go of such beautiful lines, and the passionate outbursts towards the end of the piece suggest a lover unable to release his beloved from his grasp. The Consolation No. 3 is no less effectively and beautifully conceived and executed… After hearing Brawn’s gorgeous performances of the three preceding works, I was ready to feast on his Pictures as well, and he did not disappoint me… this is a Pictures worthy of the attention of anyone who has an interest in the work… The Rachmaninoff B-Minor Prelude is as tastefully done as anything else in the recital leading further credence to my conviction that a major talent is on display here… In sum, James Brawn is a pianist who certainly has the “brawn”—strength and technical chops—but also the brains to go along with it. The combination of these allows him to accomplish everything he, and anyone, could desire in these pieces. I also want to give praise to producer Jeremy Hayes for allowing sufficient space between each of the selections on this recital, a rare treat since producers typically cram the various pieces on a CD too closely together… Additionally, engineer Ben Connellan must be applauded for capturing some of the finest piano sounds that I’ve heard in quite some time. This is a must-acquire disc for anyone who considers himself an aficionado of pianistic art.”
David DeBoor Canfield, Fanfare [May/June 2014]
 “[ * * * * ] Brilliant pianists tend to be either jaw-dropping virtuosos or they are intensely musical. James Brawn, at 42 years of age, while having the chops at his disposal to negotiate the thundering octaves of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No 1 or Mussorgsky’s Great Gate at Kiev belongs in the second category. He is a musician first: you hear it in the clarity of line maintained throughout the extensive variations of Busoni’s monumental arrangement of the Chaconne from Bach’s Violin Partita No 2, the gentle cantabile of Liszt’s Consolation No 3, and the unaffected fluidity of the C Major Prelude from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier… The centrepiece is the Mussorgsky, where Brawn takes a thoughtful approach… musical values of balance and clarity are paramount.”
Phillip Scott, Limelight Magazine [May 2014]
“[ * * * * ] [In the Bach-Busoni] Brawn's playing is rhythmically tight, with flexible and crisp fingerwork rather then romantic, the whole being technically superb. His performance develops grandeur, though his attack remains firm and highly articulate with some fabulously crisp runs... [In the Liszt] Brawn is again technically assured and nicely impulsive with some dazzling fingerwork and creates a finely dramatic narrative... The whole performance [of the Mussorgsky] is impressive for the way that Brawn, for all his technical skill, conveys the sheer bravura struggle of the piece... This is an impressive disc and Brawn's debut recital disc, I believe, combining technique and musicality; highly recommended.”
Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill [May 2014]
“Brawn’s playing here is, technically, without fault, and that’s especially impressive in the staggeringly difficult Busoni arrangement and in Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1. ...Brawn captures the music’s wild, rustic energy well, and the swooning, amorous waltz depicting the dancing of Faust and a “village beauty” is strongly etched... there’s something bracing about Mussorgsky’s original conception of [Pictures] especially in Brawn’s hands, which articulate its craggy features with color and energy. The dark undercurrents in several of Pictures’ ten movements come to the fore. “Gnomus” and “Il vecchio castello” are steeped in mystery. “Catacombs” and (especially) “Con mortuis in lingua mortua” sound downright chilling... Brawn’s attention to tonal variety [in Baba Yaga] goes a long way to sustaining its musical focus... Brawn’s attention to the little details in “The Great Gate at Kiev” provide a suitably majestic conclusion to the piece... Liszt’s Consolation no. 3 and Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in B minor (op. 32, no. 10) allow Brawn to flex some lyrical and dramatic muscle, and he does so convincingly. Remarkably, though, it’s the short Bach C major prelude that neatly sums up Brawn’s playing throughout this album in just two short minutes: beautifully articulated, restrained, and songful.... In a world populated by talented pianists, James Brawn is a standout. [This disc] demonstrate[s] not just a virtuoso at work, but also a probing, thoughtful musician with strong, creative programming instincts. May we hear more from him soon.”
Jonathan Blumhofer, ArtsFuse [May 2014]
“James Brawn [is] off to a flying start with his first few albums. He's been winning awards since he was a child, teaching, and performing to great acclaim, and this new recording makes one understand his appeal. He is a consummate artist… The variations within the [Bach-Busoni] Chaconne allow Brawn the flexibility to offer a brilliant display of pianism, the artistry always present yet never interfering with or distracting from the music itself. Brawn's performance is alternately dark and dramatic, the pianist responding quickly and delicately to each new inflection in the score… [In the Mephisto Waltz] Brawn is careful not to exaggerate the ornate flourishes for pure show… Brawn's interpretation brings out all the lush, eerie beauty in the piece, as well as the passion and excitement… In Brawn's hands, [Liszt’s Consolation] is exquisitely beautiful and expressive… [Pictures at an Exhibition] requires the pianist create little tone pictures of diverse moods and character, a process in which Mr. Brawn succeeds admirably. Here's also where Brawn gets to show off a bit, with each portrait perfectly judged and perfectly well characterized… this is among the best piano versions of the Mussorgsky piece I've experienced… Brawn's program is impressively varied, showing off all of the pianist's technical prowess as well as his sensitivity to the nuances of the piano. His playing is virtuosic and exciting at times, yet soft and lyrical when necessary. But most of all, it's simply fun to listen to. Fans of piano music cannot miss… The piano sounds crisply articulated, with solid impact and a firm transient response, without being bright or forward in any way. Moreover, we hear a pleasantly mild ambient bloom around the notes, making the sound not only well defined but moderately warm and natural, too. The miking is not so close as to stretch the piano across the room, making for an even more realistic presentation.”
John J. Puccio, Classical Candor [April 2014]
"This young Briton’s gift of coloration is ideal for etching the individuality of the 16 miniatures comprising Mussorgsky’s immensely popular Pictures at an Exhibition. I have yet to hear a more evocative acquittal of this piano original. That coloration and detailed notes give you all the help you need to steer through the architecture of Busoni’s elephantine arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne in D minor. Other solos by Liszt and Rachmaninov enrich this compilation programme."
Ian Dando, New Zealand Listener [April 2014]
“James Brawn gives us one of the finest recital discs I have heard for a long time from MSR Classics. I recently reviewed the first two releases of James Brawn’s Beethoven Odyssey, a survey of Beethoven’s piano Sonatas which I found to be outstanding performances... This disc opens with a tremendous performance of Bach’s Chaconne…arranged by Busoni. Brawn’s distinctive phrasing in the opening has a lovely considered quality with beautifully controlled dynamics and pacing, allowing the music to slowly unfold. Brawn brings so many varying touches in playing that are truly gripping from start to finish… Brawn goes straight into Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No.1…with gusto. There are fine rhythmic qualities and some beautifully delicate playing between the bravura episodes.  Brawn quietly builds the music in the less fiery passages whilst making the work appear to have more depth than I have ever heard. There is a truly great coda… This pianist brings us an affecting performance of Liszt’s Consolation No.3…with Brawn’s lovely silken touch and a gentle ebb and flow, beautifully controlled. A gem of a performance… Brawn brings many of these qualities to Mussorgsky’s Picture at an Exhibition... Promenade returns with this pianist giving one of the most sensitive of performances before The Old Castle… this pianist’s nuanced and subtle rubato gently grips the listener… Baba Yaga – the Hut of Fowl’s Legs [is] spectacularly played before The Great Gate of Kiev that has all the stately grandeur required. One can almost hear the ringing of massive iron bells. There is a rather haunting passage before the bells peal aloud. Another quieter section has beautifully overlaid passages that quietly peal before the bells ring out loudly again. This is another fine performance from James Brawn… Brawn opens Rachmaninov’s Prelude in B minor, Op.32 No.10 with a quiet, direct, melancholy feeling, a directness of approach that Rachmaninov would surely have approved of. He then proceeds to slowly build the drama with formidable playing and a coda that is pure magic... What a wonderful end to this terrific recital… [This recital disc] is worth having for the superb Bach Chaconne alone – but then there are so many other fine things on this recording. With an excellent recording…this new release is highly recommended.”
The Classical Reviewer [March 2014]
“[ * * * * ] James Brawn’s Remarkable Recital - On this CD, British pianist James Brawn shows both musicality and virtuosity. By means of a very immediate, full piano sound, [this recording] comes across as exceptionally impressive.  As well as a classically sculpted performance in marble of the Busoni arrangement of the Bach Chaconne, the pianist shows uniqueness in a very detailed rendering of the first Mephisto Waltz. The same may be said of his tenderly nuanced interpretation of Consolation No.3.  …it is precisely James Brawn’s nuanced, highly differentiated and, thus, always imaginative playing that makes his interpretation [of Pictures at an Exhibition] so individual… Brawn is most certainly a pianist with lots of individuality and, for this reason, also an interesting [artist].”
Remy Franck, Pizzicato, Luxembourg [March 2014]
“Award-winning British pianist...James Brawn’s virtuosity, sensitivity and understanding reveal all the subtle beauty in this intense, ravishing music”
New Classics UK [February 2014]
“The English pianist’s highly nuanced performances of Mussorgsky, Bach, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff get to the heart of the matter more surely than those of almost anyone I’ve ever heard. His dynamic range is beautifully accomplished in the way that soft keyboard dynamics should be, giving us a closer perspective on the key elements in the music. His fortes really command attention in the moments when the music grabs the listener by the ears. And he uses pauses to great effect, both within and after an individual piece… [In the Bach-Busoni] taking us from one stage to the next with consummate mastery and superb timing. It is alert rhythmically, in subtle ways that strike the listener as a work of high imagination, rather than a mere academic exercise… Two Liszt works, up next, reveal Brawn to be an artist who is disinclined to throw away any notes, even the slightest accents struck off from the main line of the melody like chips of marble from a sculptor’s hammer… Brawn takes us from one episode to the next in Liszt’s Faustian drama with the superb timing that is this pianist’s trademark... [Liszt’s Consolation No.3 gives] Brawn ample scope to display his sensitivity of touch and phrasing… In his beautifully paced and nuanced account of the original piano version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Brawn shows listeners who have only been previously acquainted with the orchestral version by Ravel what they’ve been missing... Brawn takes those big built-up chords in the powerful climaxes of tableaux such as Baba Yaga – The Hut on Fowl’s Legs and The Great Gate of Kiev with an intensity that makes the Ravel orchestrations seem superfluous. He is equally deft in painting the picture of faded splendor in The Old Castle and the subtly changing mood of Con Mortuis in Lingua Mortua as it changes from gloom to a rising note of confident, patient hope in the Resurrection… [In the Rachmaninoff] Brawn makes much of the prevalent mood of languid despair, as the music rises at last to the top of the keyboard in a cascade of notes before subsiding into resignation.”
Phil Muse, Audio Society of Atlanta [February 2014]
“In this recital, his melting sensitivity in Liszt's Consolation No. 3 compares with the heft he brings to Rachmaninoff's Prelude in B minor No. 10 and to Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. It's impressive. He's definitely one to watch.”
[ * * * * ] Stephen Pritchard, The Observer [26 October 2013]
An Australian debut in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 marks the start of pianist James Brawn’s solo career at age 12. 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. 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 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 in 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, ABC Classic FM, and
3MBS radio in Melbourne. He returned to the United Kingdom in 2010 and is currently based in the
Cotswolds. He performs 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 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 and Stephen Kovacevich, and 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.

Arranged by FERRUCCIO BUSONI in 1893
CHACONNE from the Violin Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004

FRANZ LISZT (1811-1886)
MEPHISTO WALTZ NO.1, S.514 ‘The Dance in the Village Inn’ (1858-59)

The Old Castle
Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks
Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle
Limoges - The Market Place
Con mortuis in lingua mortua
Baba Yaga - the Hut on Fowl’s Legs
The Great Gate of Kiev


PRELUDE IN C MAJOR from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1, BWV 846

MSR Classics
Piano Sonatas Nos.28 & 29 JAMES BRAWN

Piano Sonatas Nos.13, 16, 18 & 22 JAMES BRAWN

Piano Sonatas Nos.30, 31 & 32 JAMES BRAWN

Piano Sonatas Nos.4, 11 & 12 JAMES BRAWN

Piano Sonatas Nos.5, 6, 7 & 10 JAMES BRAWN

The Time Traveller and His Muse JAMES BRAWN

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

Piano Sonatas Nos.2, 17 and 26 JAMES BRAWN

Piano Sonatas Nos.8 "Pathetique", 14 JAMES BRAWN