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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

James Brawn, A Beethoven Odyssey, Volume 3, Piano Sonatas

Pianist James Brawn is embarking on A Beethoven Odyssey. Volume 3 (MSR 1467) currently plays on my computer as I write these lines. It contains Beethoven Sonatas No. 26 "Les Adieux", No. 17 "The Tempest", and No. 2. Maestro Brawn dedicates himself to the performances as Beethoven intended, with all the repeat signs honored. That's a good idea. With the CD world we can certainly make the space, and in the process we hear each sonata as an entity of substance. With such ambitions realized near the halfway point, the total set will likely fill nine volumes, so the liners say.

Volume 3 gives us an idea of James Brawn's acute sensitivity to the Beethoven. With the current volume we get something from the classical period (No. 2, 1795), edging into the mature period (No. 17, 1801-02) and then rather firmly into the blooming of the romantic (No. 26, 1809-10).

With all the repeats the No. 2 runs around 30 minutes. That provides us with a much deeper experience than otherwise. It gives the early work an imposing grandeur than it does not always possess in recorded form. Of course it is the interpretative talents of James Brawn that either make something out of the complete opportunity or elsewise. Certainly on this volume we hear a real artist at work.

The performances are filled with passion but also a classical sense of proportion. Of technique there is an abundance but it never comes to the forefront as display. Brawn harnesses his pianistic abilities to the objective of realizing the Beethoven compositional world in its fullest, most poetic, yet also in its direct, matter-of-fact sense. Others may take some passages faster, or, for that matter slower. Brawn gives us interpretations of elegance more than pure fire. And in the process gives us a Beethoven that calls attention to the most Beethovenesque note rendering, not as much a willful brilliance that calls attention to itself.

In the end I find James Brawn a deeply appropriate medium to realize Beethoven as he might himself have most appreciated. It is pure music, and of course has a brilliance that doesn't always need virtuoso, self-indulging enhancements.

If further volumes are true to form, and I see no reason to doubt that, this will be a cornerstone edition of the complete sonatas. One with a constancy of faithfulness to the composer of wonderful piano music. It can stand alongside more flamboyant versions as a kind of benchmark, weather vane, a cornerstone, a standard by which others might be measured.

Have a listen and see if you don't agree. James Brawn is Beethoven on this disk. He is the channeling of the Beethoven ethos, personified if you will. Bravo.

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