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The Time Traveller and His Muse

Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Frédéric Chopin, George Gershwin, Edvard Grieg, Franz Liszt, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Domenico Scarlatti, Franz Schubert, Alexander Scriabin




“James Brawn is analytical and adept in the shading of a composition and its meaningful outcome... Works by Domenico Scarlatti open the first CD with examples of Mr. Brawn’s use of punctilious staccato notes and nimbleness... this broad album allows Mr. Brawn to make his own convincing musical arguments: the textures are consequential and varied to color the landscaping... The manière by which James Brawn expresses himself is dignified and sincere. Shunning overworked fancies, his expertise shines through with the best of intentions...and it works.”
Christie Grimstad, ConcertoNet [January 2017]
“You get a lot for your money in this demonstration of the keyboard’s historical progression; some fine interpretations are peppered throughout both discs... It’s an enterprising and entertaining trip that this gifted pianist takes you on and, if you meet a fair few familiar faces along the way, so much the better for the encounter’s informed nature.”
Clive O'Connell, O'Connell The Music [October 2016]
[ * * * * ] “[The performances] are impressive in their precision and polish. The clarity and evenness of James Brawn's playing is a major asset in the early works – such as the Bach D Major Prelude with its moto perpetuo semiquavers – and a piece like Chopin’s Black Keys Etude holds no terrors for him... Brawn faces the pianistic challenges with authority.”
Phillip Scott, Limelight Magazine [October 2016]
“Brawn is a virtuoso performer and the sound engineering captures his sensitive interpretation of these masterpieces.”
Pan Pipes, Sigma Alpha Iota [Spring 2016]
“James Brawn's steady stream of recordings over the past several years has established him as a world-class pianist— a title reinforced by Steinway's recent decision to name him an official Steinway Artist. Like all accomplished pianists, Brawn backs his musical interpretations with a formidable technique, which is on display — as always — in his latest recording, ... But this volume represents far more than another Brawn success story, for it is also an artistic statement about the very nature and purpose of recordings. Rather than providing us with a rehearsed interpretation of time-tested works, Brawn gives us something much more fluid — a one-time snapshot of thirty-one short pieces by thirteen composers, ranging from Domenico Scarlatti to George Gershwin... It would be a delight to detail the virtues of each vignette in Brawn's expertly sculpted recital, but time and space allow only for so much.”
Andrew Schartmann, Music & Vision [March 2016]
“13 different composers are represented so there is plenty of variety to satisfy most listeners and to show what the pianist can do. The brevity of the selections shows a willingness to build a program almost entirely on popular encores. As reluctant as I am to say, it actually works... there is some extremely fine pianism here, and that is always worthy of attention... [Mozart's] Fantasy, in particular, is about as good as it gets.”
Becker, American Record Guide [March/April 2016]
[ * * * * 1/2 ] “James Brawn takes a break from his Beethoven sonata odyssey to bring this recital, a chronological survey of piano music from the Baroque era to the 20th century… Brawn plays sensitively and with exemplary taste, and there is nothing dislike in any of the performances. He is beautifully recorded, and one wishes all young would-be-pianists could follow his example and play like this”
Dr. Chang Tou Liang, Pianomania [February 2016]
[ * * * * * / 5 Stars] “Brawn is one of the great unknowns at the moment, though that seems to be changing. He is thoughtful, respectful of tradition but not bound by it, and always probing the possibilities of new interpretative nuances... [an] apt demonstration of his abilities to tackle works and styles of broad appeal and very different emotional content, not to mention the plethora of technical challenges that each presents. MSR continues with very warm, analog-like sound... it supports Brawn’s natural ingratiating tonal timbre.”
Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition [December 2015]
Audiophile Audition [December 2015]
John Puccio, Classical Candor [December 2015]
"This year I have written two reviews on James Brawn's ongoing cycle of the Beethoven sonatas: the first covered volumes 1-3 and the second, volume 4. All four volumes have been thoroughly convincing, Brawn elevating himself into an elite class of Beethoven piano sonata interpreters. Consensus among critics across the globe would seem to concur... Brawn is obviously a pianist whose tastes are broad and whose fingers follow his every predilection... this [CD] must be counted as another great success for James Brawn. MSR provides vivid, well balanced sound, and the album notes are informative. Highly recommended.”
Robert Cummings, Classical Net [December 2015]
“A colorful array... Rhythmically stressed and effectively accentuated Scarlatti Sonatas… [Brawn] entertains with these little musical offerings, and ensures this double CD is a pure pleasure to listen to, with reflective pieces to provide some variation.”
Remy Franck, Pizzicato [October 2015]
“[James Brawn] has become one of my favorite classical performers. His work never fails to impress and delight me, the present collection no exception… I continue to marvel that everything Brawn touches turns to magic. I have yet to hear him play anything I didn't like, that didn't sound just the way I imagine the composer intended yet with the added merit of Brawn's personal touch. Brawn never distorts the music and never uses it to call attention to himself and his virtuosic skills, yet he is also able to make all of it his own, reveling in every nuance of phrasing, contrast, tempo, and dynamics… The piano sound, as before, is clean, clear, rich, and resonant. The venue provides just enough ambient bloom to make the instrument come alive and appear lifelike. The natural warmth provides a realistic-sounding response, as though the listener were actually in the room with the piano, albeit at a moderate distance. Transient response, dynamics, and frequency balance are exemplary as well, nothing too hard, too soft, too bright, or too edgy. In other words, excellent sound.”
John J. Puccio, Classical Candor [September 2015]
“The present 2-CD set complements perfectly the previously-released Volume 1 of James Brawn in Recital. This one has an even wider scope than its predecessor. It plays like two old-fashioned “encore recitals,” such as great pianists of the past used to give us occasionally. The qualities he showed in the earlier release –dynamic control, superb timing, high imagination, and the ability to get to the heart of the matter without seeming unduly fussy or cerebral – are found here as well, together with a limpid tonal quality that is very attractive in many of these pieces... [the five Rachmaninoff Preludes] allow Brawn to exhibit a virtual clinic in dynamic shadings, breath-taking tempo changes, and the way the pieces often sink into darkness or scamper away into nothingness at the end.… an exceptionally well-balanced recital program.”
Phil Muse, Audio Society of Atlanta [October 2015]
"A captivating recital from James Brawn... [Brawn] has brought us four formidable recordings in his cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas, A Beethoven Odyssey for MSR... Such is his fine musicianship, his first recital disc for MSR was equally attractive. Now from MSR Classics comes his second recital covering two discs and I must say straight away it is very fine too... The more I hear of James Brawn playing the more I am convinced of his special musicianship, an ability to bring a wide variety of music so alive is a very special quality. He has compiled here a fine collection of popular works and infused them with something special. I found myself totally captivated with so much of this recital and given its fine recording made at Potton Hall, Suffolk, England it surely deserves a place on every music lover’s shelf."
Bruce Reader, The Classical Reviewer [September 2015]
Concerning James Brawn’s In Recital – Volume 2, the pianist writes: ‘During the 2014-2015 concert season I played recitals of Beethoven piano sonatas, my Beethoven Odyssey, and also presented concerts comprising many of my favourite shorter pieces. These programmes were titled The Time Traveller and his Muse. Brawn thinks of the grand piano as a sort of time machine that allows him to explore the great music of the past. Given the frenzied pace of modern life, which is driving the human race headlong into an uncertain future, he finds that playing the piano allows him ‘to cherish beautiful moments in time, to travel temporarily in reverse, fleetingly back to the past, following my muse, and connecting with the hearts and minds of the great composers.’ It is very refreshing to hear an artist talk about interpreting the music of the great composers with utmost respect for the material at hand. The current emphasis often lies on showcasing the individual artist, and the composer can become a mere side note in the process. Yet the task of the interpreter should be to convey the composer’s intentions. The combination of respect for the composer and informed individual expression makes for ideal renderings, such as those of the other great pianists who Brawn cites as having deeply influenced his own approach to various works presented here.

James Brawn has chosen to publish second recordings of several works already contained in Volume 1 of his In Recital series [MS1501]. Specifically, he has included new ‘snapshots’ of J.S. Bach’s Prelude No.1, Liszt’s Consolation No.3 and Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in B minor. Reviewers and listeners alike may take note of this and wonder about Brawn’s rationale for doing so. His explanation provides wonderful insight into the inevitable uniqueness of each performance; it also helps us to understand Brawn’s deep love of the repertoire that continuously enriches his life: ‘no recording is definitive for a start! Great musical works can be interpreted in so many different ways, even by the same musician. At any moment in time, a piece of music connects the composer, performer and listener in a sort of triangular, sub-conscious relationship or discourse. The variables and possibilities are endless: Acoustic and instrument conditions, the emotional and physical state of the performer, the ability of producer and engineer to capture the performance as faithfully as possible on record and, finally, whether the muse descends and is able to inspire the musician. Personally, I find the challenge of playing the great works of musical art every day intoxicating, whether for the first or 1000th time. Every performance can illuminate something new and wonderful. A more singing treble line, a tender inner voice or pedalling that blends the piano sound.

The need to strive for artistic perfection, coupled with musical integrity, binds me to the composer’s notation in the score. Every piece I perform in concert, and then record in the studio, is a love of mine, a work I cannot live without, let alone tire of ... Inevitably, these works have become integral to my internal musical thought processes and will undoubtedly remain in my repertoire.’ Concerning the arrangement of this recital volume, Brawn shares the following: ‘It consists of two discs, representing two halves of an evening recital. The music is performed chronologically, beginning with two harpsichord sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, travelling through the 18th and 19th centuries, and finishing with Gershwin’s own transcription of “I Got Rhythm”, penned in 1930.’ Volume 2 features 31 pieces written by 13 composers, representing 200 years of beautiful keyboard music. Brawn hopes that you will accompany him on this journey through a kaleidoscope of musical works that inspire and renew him whenever he sits down at the piano.

James Brawn began his career at age 12 with an Australian debut in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.25. 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 France, Italy, Hong Kong, Brunei and the United States. [www.jamesbrawn.com]
Sonata in E major, K.380 (Andante commodo)
Sonata in C major, K.159 ‘La Caccia’ (Allegro)

Prelude in C major, BWV 846
Prelude in C minor, BWV 847
Prelude in D major, BWV 850
Prelude in E-flat minor, BWV 853
Prelude in E major, BWV 854

Sonata No.11 in A major, K.331 ‘Rondo alla Turca’
Fantasia in D minor, K.397

‘Für Elise’ (Bagatelle in A minor, WoO.59)

FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Moment Musicale No.3 in F minor, Op.94 / D.780
Impromptu No.3 in G-flat major, Op.90 / D.899

Prelude No.4 in E minor, Op.28
Étude No.12 in C minor, Op.25 ‘Ocean’
Étude No.3 in E major, Op.10 ‘La Tristesse’
Étude No.1 in A-flat major, Op.25 ‘Aeolian Harp’
Étude No.5 in G-flat major, Op.10 ‘Black Key’


Prelude No.15 in D-flat major, Op.28 ‘Raindrop’
Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op.45

FRANZ LISZT (1811-1886)
Consolation No.3 in D-flat major, S.172

Waltz in A-flat major, Op.39, No.15
Intermezzo in A major, Op.118, No.2

EDVARD GRIEG (1843-1907)
Arietta in E-flat major, Op.12, No.1

Étude in C-sharp minor, Op.2, No.1

Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op.3, No.2
Prelude in G-sharp minor, Op.32, No.12
Prelude in B minor, Op.32, No.10
Prelude in D major, Op.23, No.4
Prelude in G major, Op.32, No.5

Toccata in D minor, Op.11

I Got Rhythm

MSR Classics
Piano Sonatas Nos.4, 11 & 12 JAMES BRAWN

Piano Sonatas Nos.5, 6, 7 & 10 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

Piano Sonatas Nos.1, 3 & 23 JAMES BRAWN