“A Beethoven Odyssey”, Vol. 3 = Piano Sonatas: No. 2 in A; No. 17, “The Tempest”; No. 26 in E-flat, “Les Adieux” – James Brawn, p. – MSR Classics

“A Beethoven Odyssey”,  Vol. 3 = Piano Sonatas: No. 2 in A, Op. 2/2; No. 17 in d, Op. 31/2, “The Tempest”; No. 26 in E-flat, Op. 49A, “Les Adieux” – James Brawn, piano – MSR Classics MS 1467, 70:48 [Distr. by Albany] *****:

I took on Brawn’s first volume here and the second one here.  Though the first is superb, I felt a little let down by the second, though not by much. I am happy to report that this third installment of what appears will be a complete traversal of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas (nine volumes in total) has moved back into the purely excellent category.

As on the previous installments the sound is warm and analog-like, a perfect antidote to some of the brighter and more egregiously flashy productions that have appeared recently. Brawn seems particularly attuned to the Beethovenian muse, rowdy when needed, delicate and actually ravishing in instances that so often appear in the midst of Beethoven’s turbulence. These sonatas, here recorded in a converted barn near Aldeburgh, are not the stormiest of Beethoven’s work; rather they convey a sense of the composer deepening his own understanding of the piano, at three distinctly different times in his life, the tail end of the Haydn influence, the onset of deafness, and finally the wartime chaos of Napoleon’s activities. One can detect a silver thread connecting the these sonatas, purely by accident of course, though nevertheless sounding as if they were three large movements of one compositional life—youth, middle age, and reflection. It was a brilliant idea to include them all on one set.

Brawn’s touch is perfect, his tone excellent, and his technique beyond reproach. Top it off with some interpretative finesse that matches any I have heard in recent years and you have a set that will be very hard to top when completed.

—Steven Ritter

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