James Brawn in Recital, Vol. 2 – “The Time Traveller and His Muse” = Works of SCARLATTI, BACH,MOZART, BEETHOVEN, SCHUBERT, CHOPIN, LISZT, GRIEG, BRAHMS, SCRIABIN, RACHMANINOFF, PROKOFIEV & GERSHWIN – MSR Classics (2 CDs)

James Brawn in Recital, Volume 2 – “The Time Traveller  and His Muse” = D. SCARLATTI: Sonata in E Major, K. 380; Sonata in C Major, K. 159 “La Caccia”; BACH: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, 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; MOZART: Sonata No. 11 in A Major, K. 331 “Rondo alla Turca”; Fantasia in d minor, K. 397; BEETHOVEN: Für Elise (Schroeder); SCHUBERT: Moment Musicale No. 3 in f minor, D. 780; Impromptu No. 3 in G-Flat Major, D. 899; CHOPIN: Prelude No. 4 in e minor, Op. 28; Etude No. 12 in C Minor, Op. 25 “Ocean”; Etude No. 3 in E Major, Op. 10 “La Tristesse”; Etude No. 1 in A-Flat Major, Op. 25 “Aeolian Harp”; Etude 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; LISZT: Consolation No. 3 in D-Flat Major, S. 172; BRAHMS: Waltz in A-Flat Major, Op. 39, No. 15; Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2; GRIEG: Arietta in E-Flat Major, Op. 12, No. 1; SCRIABIN: Etude in c-sharp minor, Op. 2, No. 1; RACHMANINOFF: 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; PROKOFIEV: Toccata in d minor, Op. 11; GERSHWIN: I Got Rhythm – James Brawn, p. – MSR Classics MS 1502 (2 CDs), 106:55 [Distr. by Albany] *****:

This is the second “in recital” disc that James Brawn has recorded (the first is Here). 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. For example, three of the pieces here were also on his first recital disc, the Bach Prelude No. 1, Liszt Consolation No. 3, and Rachmaninoff Prelude in B minor.  Some might balk at this duplication, and I might even be one of them, but Brawn is committed enough to show that his mind is anything but settled on any kind finalized view, and really rejects the very notion.

This set takes us on a tour of rather short pieces spanning Scarlatti until Gershwin. I will admit it’s a little weird listening to Bach Preludes without the fugues simply because we are so used to hearing them like that, and I am definitely not a fan of excising sonatas, which is what happens with the Mozart “Rondo alla Turka”—there was easily room for the whole sonata. I understand the point behind the shortening as it fits into his overall scheme of presentation, but it left me unsatisfied. No such problems plague the rest of the program, Brawn selecting favorites from the host of listed composers that give 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, though quite constricted in focus, but it supports Brawn’s natural ingratiating tonal timbre. This is as pleasant a couple of hours as I can imagine, and bodes well for what MSR and Brawn have in store for us in the future.

—Steven Ritter

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