Thursday, 22 February 2018

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, February 2018)

MSR Classics 1469 / *****

Orchid Classics 100076 / *****

The 32 piano sonatas of Beethoven in the recorded medium have been defined by the likes of historical pianists like Artur Schnabel and Wilhelm Kempff, and more recently, Alfred Brendel. A younger generation represented by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Paul Lewis and Igor Levit have carried on quite famously as well. 

But do listen to these latest recordings by British pianist James Brawn (now in his fifth instalment of sonata cycle) and the Israeli Ishay Shaer, who uphold the tradition with pride and vigour.

Brawn explores four sonatas from Beethoven's early period. The trio of Op.10 Sonatas are as varied as one can get. The dramatics of the C minor sonata (No.1) are contrasted with the humour of the F major sonata (No.2), but both are eclipsed by the imposing D major sonata (No.3), the longest of the three and one of his great early essays in the genre. 

Brawn instils an urgency and vitality that is hard to ignore, and follows up with the genial G major sonata (Op.14 No.2).

From Beethoven's later years are the Sonatas in A major (Op.101) and E major (Op.109), as he single-handedly bridged the Classical and Romantic eras. Shaer fully captures the autumnal spirit, which is tempered by defiance and a fond look-back at past traditions. The finales of Op.101 and 109 are a fugue and a theme and variations set respectively. 

Between these giants are 17 Bagatelles (Op.119 and 126), miniatures which resemble shavings from a master's workbench. Trifles some of these may be (Op.119 No.10 lasts just 14 seconds) but would one trifle with gold dust?   

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