The journey continues, and a superb one it is.

“A Beethoven Odyssey”, Vol. 5 = Piano Sonatas: No. 5 in c, Op. 10/1; No. 6 in F, Op. 10/2; No. 7 in D, Op. 10/3; No. 10 in G, Op. 14/2 – James Brawn, p. – MSR Classics MS 1469, 71:12 *****:

It’s been two years since the last  volume of James Brawn’s sensational Beethoven series, and I was starting to get worried! The first four appeared with predictable regularity, and then this drought occurs. Happily, volume five is now here, and we are all the better for it. I hope MSR decides to move ahead before I get any older!

The virtues present in the previous releases are all here—stringent channeling of the composer’s innermost ideas, wonderful articulation, fine sense of rubato, and an absolutely uncluttered technical arsenal that presents Beethoven not as a heroic giant but as an immensely personal communicator. This composer, such a fabulously creative and innovative artist, is always found—to me, at least—at his most perfect in the piano sonatas and string quartets. The symphonies are great, but their statements are larger than life, while the chamber music reflects life itself. Brawn seems to get this, and very well.

Here Brawn tackles the three opus 10 sonatas, early works from the mid-1790s when the composer was just starting to get his bearings and still under the (probably) unconscious influence of Joseph Haydn. Already, as in No. 7, he experiments with the four-movement form, highly unusual at the time, and rather long at around 24 minutes. But these works are also highly inventive and tuneful, concurrent with the string trios and early violin sonatas. They are dedicated to Anna Margarete von Browne, the wife of one of Beethoven’s patrons, a Russian diplomat in Vienna. Beethoven of course cultivated relationships such as these for the larger portion of his life, wrestling for many years over his conviction that he himself was of the aristocracy, though no evidence has appeared to validate this assertion.

The opus 14 sonatas are somewhat of a throwback into the classical style. No. 2 is in three movements, the total only around fifteen minutes, and the overarching feeling one comes away with in listening to this work is that of intense and graceful lyricism. Indeed, while Beethoven was just starting to delve into his motivic ideas as a general basis for composition, it’s as if he could not resist exorcising the demon of classical purity before continuing. However, in the development section of the first movement we do get a rather extended conversation of much dramatic effect. Overall, this sonata does not get nearly its due, though Brawn’s efforts in enhancing its status will not go unnoticed.

Again, a beautiful recording in what can already be considered a classic series.

—Steven Ritter