“A Beethoven Odyssey”, Vol. 6 = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas: No. 4 in E-flat, Op. 7; No. 11 in B-Flat, Op. 22; No. 12 in A-Flat, Op. 26 – James Brawn, piano – MSR Classics MS 1470, 73:43 ****:
Brawn continues his traversal of the Beethoven sonatas, as competitive a series as is to be found in recent recording history. There are three designated “Grand” sonatas here, composed in a short span of time between 1796 and 1801. No.4 is the second-longest sonata in of the thirty-two. It’s a thirty-minute monster written for one of Beethoven’s pupils, who must have been quite a wiz.
No. 12 is a gorgeous piece, starting with a theme and variations, and including a funeral march, four movements all in the same key of A-flat. It’s an unusual work, jettisoning the usual sonata-allegro format in any movement, and was written at the time of the composer’s First Symphony, dedicated to patron Prince Karl von Lichnowsky. Chopin was rumored to greatly admire it.
Composed in 1800, many consider the sonata No. 11 in B-Flat to be the greatest of the “Grand” sonatas, and Beethoven certainly considered it the best of his early piano works. The designee was most likely the composer himself, destined to play in the grand houses of Vienna, and is highly virtuosic. If the composer indeed does serve as a bridge between the classical and romantic eras, this might be said to bring a close to the high classical age before his unique experimentation and tonal explorations took effect.
Throughout, James Brawn displays the same sense of expectation and discovery we have come to expect in this admirable series, a flawless flight of lithe technical wizardry and intimate, sensitive pianism of the highest order. I can’t wait for this to complete.