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  BIS -
  Beethoven: Complete Piano Works Vol. 1 - Brautigam
  Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor Op. 13 "Pathetique", Piano Sonata No. 9 in E major Op. 14 No. 1, Piano Sonata No. 10 in G major Op. 14 No. 2, Piano Sonata No. 11 in B flat major Op. 22

Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
Track listing:
  Classical - Instrumental
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Reviews: 3

Review by seth July 5, 2005 (13 of 14 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
The idea of playing piano music on the fortepiano is as old as using 'period' instruments. Yet, it is has never quite caught on in the same way. The common response to using a fortepiano is: "wouldn't Mozart/Beethoven/Schubert prefer their music played on the far more expressive Steinway (and its competitors)?" This is a difficult question to answer. The Steinway has a far wider dynamic range, a bigger warmer sound, which pianists have brilliantly manipulated for the last 100 years. But this neglects the fact that composers wrote specifically for the fortepiano, which is really a completely different instrument than the Steinway. Besides it's smaller size, unlike the Steinway design, the strings are not crisscrossed, there is no steel frame and the grain of the wood runs in a different direction, among other things. Because of all of these differences, there are things you can do with each instruments but not both. For instance, the fortepiano has a significantly shorter reverberation rate; its sound decays faster. As a result, you can quickly attack its keyboard in ways you cannot on the Steinway (Schubert and Mozart exploit this more than anyone else). Thus, not only is the sound of the instrument different than the Steinway, but so is the way you can play music on it, which Brautigam is quite aware of.

What I find most interesting and successful about Brautigam's playing, especially in the "Pathetique," is that in some ways his dynamic range goes higher than pianists performing on modern piano. A fortissimo in 1800 is no where near what it is today; on the Steinway you have to bring it down when playing music from this time period. Brautigam is able to get away pounding at the keyboard without distorting the balance and having to deal with the fallout of a long reverberation rate. When comparing his performance to ones on modern pianos, he makes them sound surprisingly restrained; you can hear that the pianist is trying not to be too loud while Brautigam is giving it everything he has. The result is a wonderfully more aggressive "Pathetique" than normal, excellently showcasing why this was such a breakthrough work. Doubters of the 'small' fortepiano will be surprised with how much punch this instrument has.

Not to skip over the rest of the disc, but Brautigam brings the same inelegant full-blooded approach to the other sonatas, while remaining sensitive in the slow movements. Lots of rediscovery here.

The sound quality is excellent: vivid, forcefully and detailed. It sounds like Brautigam is in your home. I do have one small caveat. After hearing the first 5 seconds of the disc, I thought to myself that it sounded like it was recorded in a church. I turned to the back of the booklet and sure enough it was. The church's highly resonate acoustics make the fortepiano sound a little larger than it really is, as well as helps extend its decay rate a bit. Having heard a variety of different fortepianos live, the recording slightly misrepresents its sound.

Overall, this is an exciting first release of what is to be a 17 disc (!) set. Based on this disc, I intended to buy the other 16.

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Review by akiralx July 1, 2005 (10 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I debated for a long time before buying this SACD - simply because while I had appreciated other fortepiano recordings I owned, they never replaced recordings on a modern grand piano. Also, of course, I had other versions of these works, particularly the Pathetique.

Still within a few bars of this excellent recording, my fears were banished. The fortepiano Brautigam used (a copy of an original) is one hell of an instrument: no tinkly passagework or lack of sustaining power here. In fact the crushing chord which opens the Pathetique (and reappears later) has more impact in this reading than in virtually any other I've heard.

To be honest I'm amazed this thin-legged instrument featured in the booklet can produce such powerful sounds - or survive such playing! The bass response is remarkable, which coupled with Brautigam's phenomenal articulation (particularly of ornaments which emerge with great clarity) and his urgent tempi makes this a really dramatic performance which I would put near, if not at, the top of my favourite Beethoven sonata recordings. Wisely Brautigam adots a fairly flowing tempo for the Adagio Cantabile as this is one area of keyboard playing where the modern piano has the edge.

A word about the sound quality - it's superb in multichannel. Incredibly vivid sound, with the fortepiano placed securely on a perfectly realistic soundstage. Rear channel use is ideal, securing the aural image. As I've mentioned, the bass is perfectly focused, adding real weight to the interpretations. The detail in the mid- and high-registers is also wonderful.

The two op.14 sonatas on the disc are slighter works but given excellent performances - I don't know them as well as the final work, the Sonata No.11 op.22. This is one of my favourites, especially for its amusing theme and variations finale, which here is played rather more dramatically than usual. Richard Goode's performance on Nonesuch has been my benchmark for a few years, but Brautigam is nearly as good (if you'll excuse the pun) - occasionally his non-legato phrasing compromises the droll elegance, though the dramatic interludes in this finale come across more vividly to even things out.

I'd give this a very strong recommendation, and I'll certainly be buying subsequent volumes (the second one is released in August).

If you have worries about the sound of the fortepiano, my advice is don't be concerned, this instrument sounds full and impressive. With Brautigam's virtuosic and thoroughly Beethovenian performances one really hears what early audiences must have experienced with the composer at the keyboard.

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Review by Jay-dub June 10, 2007 (6 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
The most successful performance on this disk is the great sonata in B-flat; the least successful is the sonata in G. The RBCD sound in first-rate, so that SACD stereo provides only the slightest improvement in the sound: in high-def, the fortepiano sounds less like an upright.

The choice of instrument is not a big deal in this recording. In the church acoustic, the notes on Brautigam's fortepiano reverberate about as long as we are used to from modern pianos. This piano does have a very striking and beautiful soft pedal, though. Much more important is that the piano is tuned to an unequal temperament, which is unusual to hear in music as late as Beethoven, although it may well be an authentic practice. In standard unequal temperaments, the flat keys (e.g. C-minor and B-flat) have a forceful and energetic character, while the white-note keys (G) have a sweet and relaxed character and the sharp keys (E) have a peculiarly nervous character. A wider palette of colors is available to the keyboard player than in equal temperament, while the listener is more anchored to the absolute pitch of the notes. In theory, I am strongly in favor of unequal temperaments for almost all keyboard music; but I must say it still sounds strange to me.

Brautigam plays Beethoven with hard-driving rhythms. He avoids big ritards, and the rhythmic freedom that he most often allows himself is a slight pause before downbeats, as an agogic accent or to clear the air before a new harmony. He is quite free with articulation, though, and often plays staccato passages almost connected or accents a note in the middle of a slur. In these respects, his approach is the opposite of my favorite pianists such as Arrau. Brautigam's ear seems to be focused primarily on the sound of the harmonies, rather than on the motivic development and the phrase structure. He does many beautiful things, but to my ear he sounds a little stiff, especially in the two sonatas of Op. 14.

The Pathetique is my least favorite of these sonatas. I don't have much to say except that I wish Brautigam had taken the first-movement repeat back to the very beginning of the sonata, as Rudolph Serkin did, instead of to the beginning of the Allegro, as most modern editions and performers have it. (The first edition is ambiguous, with just a double-bar at the end of the Grave. I think it sounds better and makes more sense to repeat the Grave.) The sonata in E sounds weird and restless to me. This may be as Beethoven intended, but I have to work hard to enjoy the dissonances that I'm hearing. The sonata in G is supposed to be fun and unpretentious, unbuttoned you might say. It sounds to me as if Brautigam is working hard against both the sound of the piano and the character of the music to maintain his degree of forward momentum -- he needs to relax. The sonata in B-flat is better-suited to Brautigam's style, and he sounds more comfortable in it.

There are some strange sounds in the Andante of Op. 22, possibly the damper mechanism of the instrument. They are too indistinct to be bothersome in the RBCD layer.

All in all, a very impressive recording, which I have so far found more educational than entertaining.

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Works: 4  

Ludwig van Beethoven - Piano Sonata No. 10 in G major, Op. 14 No. 2
Ludwig van Beethoven - Piano Sonata No. 11 in B flat major, Op. 22
Ludwig van Beethoven - Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 "Pathétique"
Ludwig van Beethoven - Piano Sonata No. 9 in E major, Op. 14 No. 1