Author Topic: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven  (Read 8297 times)

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Offline Todd

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Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« on: June 09, 2007, 08:43:56 AM »
I don’t like the fortepiano.  Never have.  It’s not clear, bright, and plucky like a harpsichord; it’s not richly sonorous, powerful, and commanding like a real piano.  It’s stuck uncomfortably in between those two superior instruments.  I’ve listened to various fortepiano recordings over the years, and none have really got my blood boiling.  Not surprisingly, I’ve not really paid much attention to the instrument while listening to gobs of Beethoven.  Why would I?  Well, perhaps to hear something great that I’ve been missing, I suppose.  Ronald Brautigam’s on-going cycle of all of Beethoven’s piano music has garnered some fine reviews and kind words, so I figured I might re-dip my toes in the plinky waters of fortepiano music-making.  One discs seemed a good place to start, and given the four on offer at present, I figured the second volume, with the Op 7 grand sonata and the Op 10 trio would be the best place to start.

The disc opens with the Op 7, and I must confess that I was pleasantly surprised.  Not wowed, but pleasantly surprised.  The opening Allegro molto e con brio is taken at a nice, quick pace, but one that is never too pressed.  Brautigam offers surprisingly fine dynamic control and deploys a wave-like dynamic pattern in some passages.  Brautigam also plays surprisingly loud at times, delivering satisfying forte climaxes.  Sure, they lack the power a nine-foot steel framed beast can bring, but they sound nice, especially when delivered with such pep.  Overall, the playing is pointed, clear if “buzzy,” and nicely articulated, and the music is delivered with real verve.  The Largo con gran espressione sounds sufficiently slow and intermittently strong, though here the ultimate heft and thus emotional impact in the loudest chords sounds somewhat drained by the instrument itself. Brautigam maintains nice enough clarity, and delivers each part superbly, but the plinky sound ends up turning the drama into comedy, or perhaps dramedy.  It remains tense, but it just doesn’t cut it.  The Allegro is more forceful and more driving, with nice bite, and the sound of the instrument doesn’t get in the way.  The concluding Rondo has nicely clipped left hand playing and almost lyrical playing from the right, making for a vibrant, light end to the work, interrupted by only a nearly furious middle section.

The first of the Op 10 sonatas opens with an Allegro molto e con brio boasting strong, fast, intense ascending arpeggios, then moves onto a second section that stabs at lyricism, but maintains a tense, edgy feel.  Throughout there is a nice, unyielding drive.  The Adagio molto is comparatively brisk, with the instrument lending a lighter, tangier sound to the music.  Some broad arpeggios have a peculiar – and peculiarly effective – strummed sound to them, something one definitely can’t hear from a concert grand.  Alas, as with the slow movement in Op 7, the plinky nature of the instrument makes the music-making sound a bit lightweight.  The Prestissimo opens briskly but has a tentative feel, but it quickly transitions over to a dazzling virtuoso display, packed with dizzying dexterity and a usefully broad dynamic range. 

The second of the trio fares best of all on this disc.  The opening Allegro displays a certain good-natured brusqueness along with a snappy overall tempo and plenty of energy.  It sounds just about right.  The Allegretto, like the “slow” movements in the two preceding works, is relatively quick and surprisingly tense, though it remains a bit shallow.  The repeatless Presto (shame on Brautigam for not playing all the repeats, irrespective of his notes!) is fast, plucky (ha!), and full of verve and spice.  Yes, it’s quite nice.

The disc ends with the great D major closer of the trio.  The opening Presto is surprisingly big and broad in conception, though quick-ish in delivery, with excellent and clear part playing, excellent if constrained dynamic gradation, and overall vigor.  The great Largo e mesto opens with nice restraint, then moves on to darker, more dramatic or melodramatic playing as required.  But as with all of the preceding works, something goes missing.  It almost sounds like faux melodrama, and the instrument just can’t pack the necessary wallop.  It’s not the volume – Brautigam can hammer out the music – it’s the overall feel.  The instrument just doesn’t have the needed gravitas.  A number of times Brautigam approaches what’s needed, but there’s something stopping him.  The Menuetto, though, is a resounding success, sounding simultaneously flowing and crisp with nicely potent bass.  The ending Rondo is fun, with Brautigam cruising along in a more or less carefree manner while dispatching the music with seeming ease.  A nice reading.

Somewhat against expectations, I enjoyed this disc.  Brautigam is as convincing an advocate for the fortepiano as I’ve heard.  He’s got superb technique and fine musical instincts.  Of the three new LvB sonata discs I’ve bought recently – Schiff’s latest and Freire’s being the other two – this is definitely my favorite.  It has a certain energy and forthrightness that those two lack, and while Brautigam doesn’t really tread any radical new ground interpretively, he adds some unique insights.  I may try another disc to two in the series, but ultimately, for me, the fortepiano just doesn’t deliver what I’m listening for in Beethoven.  This was driven home as I relistened to Claude Frank’s cycle at the same time.  Even though that set is not especially well-recorded, the instrument offers a depth and power and range that the older style instrument just can’t deliver.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that Frank is even more in tune with the music, at least to my taste.

Flawless sound. 


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Offline FideLeo

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2007, 09:04:27 AM »
It really takes quality recordings to showcase this instrument.  Ditto the harpsichord.  :)
« Last Edit: June 09, 2007, 09:26:03 AM by traverso »
HIP for all and all for HIP! Harpsichord for Bach, fortepiano for Beethoven and pianoforte for Brahms!

Offline 71 dB

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2007, 09:44:24 AM »
It really takes quality recordings to showcase this instrument.  Ditto the harpsichord.  :)

It really takes quality recordings to showcase this instrument. Ditto BIS SACD.  :)

I like the sound of fortepiano, it's HIP with this repertoire. I am fond of Brautigam's playing.
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Offline FideLeo

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #3 on: June 09, 2007, 10:19:32 AM »

I like the sound of fortepiano, it's HIP with this repertoire. I am fond of Brautigam's playing.


Brautigam's playing makes these BIS SACD's HIP also.

Another VERY HIP recording of the fortepiano imo:

HIP for all and all for HIP! Harpsichord for Bach, fortepiano for Beethoven and pianoforte for Brahms!

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #4 on: June 09, 2007, 10:20:26 AM »
Thanks for the review, Todd. I'll be checking out these recordings soon. :)

Offline Bunny

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #5 on: June 09, 2007, 11:27:12 AM »
Todd, thanks for the nice review.  Brautigam must be doing something right to make you forget even a little how much you detest the fortepiano.  I love the recordings, but I also love the sound of a good fortepiano, and have volume 4 on order (Opp. 26,27,28). 

Brautigam's playing makes these BIS SACD's HIP also.

Another VERY HIP recording of the fortepiano imo:



Fl, is the Egarr really good?  His recent Goldbergs were a bit disappointing.

Offline FideLeo

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #6 on: June 10, 2007, 12:54:22 AM »
Todd, thanks for the nice review.  Brautigam must be doing something right to make you forget even a little how much you detest the fortepiano.  I love the recordings, but I also love the sound of a good fortepiano, and have volume 4 on order (Opp. 26,27,28). 

Fl, is the Egarr really good?  His recent Goldbergs were a bit disappointing.

Hmm Bunny I guess I will have to provide you with a sample to prove my point then... :)
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Offline Bunny

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #7 on: June 10, 2007, 04:21:06 AM »
Hmm Bunny I guess I will have to provide you with a sample to prove my point then... :)

Ola Masolino!

Thanks again, but please don't go to too much trouble. :)

George

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #8 on: June 14, 2007, 04:28:05 AM »
Thanks for the review, Todd. I'll be checking out these recordings soon. :)

As will I. So, Thanks Todd!  :)

Offline FideLeo

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #9 on: June 14, 2007, 06:22:10 AM »
Ola Masolino!

Thanks again, but please don't go to too much trouble. :)

A sample is no trouble at all  :)

rondo in a, kv511 (AAC, 19.2mb)
« Last Edit: June 15, 2007, 08:15:07 AM by masolino »
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Offline Bunny

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #10 on: June 14, 2007, 06:59:16 PM »

Offline Todd

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #11 on: June 24, 2007, 07:51:43 AM »
Against expectations, I rather enjoyed the second volume of Ronald Brautigam’s LvB sonata cycle, so I figured I might as well give another volume a shot.  I selected, of all volumes, volume 1.  Why not?

The disc opens with the mighty Pathetique.  Brautigam announces his intentions boldly with a powerful, well-sustained opening chord.  The faster music in the Grave is tense, but it’s too pianoforte-y for me, and drains the music of some power.  The Allegro, though, is dazzlingly fast and punchy, and Brautigam demonstrates amazing dexterity.  But the playing also takes on a somewhat comic air; gravitas is lacking.  It sounds somewhat like an adrenalized Tom chasing and amphetamine-crazed Jerry up and down the keyboard, though with Beethoven rather than Liszt emanating from the soundboard.  The Adagio cantabile sounds a bit like a serious player trying to convey serious emotions using a player piano.  Sorry, but Nancarrow owns the player piano, and the sound drains the music of emotional heft.  One can revel in the colors Brautigam extracts from his anachronism, but there’s not enough impact.  The concluding Rondo is vigorous and incisive, boasts nice dynamics, plenty of energy, and just the right degree of intensity.  So, a success, but a qualified one.

The two Op 14 sonatas follow, and qualifications aren’t necessary.  The first of the two opens with an Allegro displaying a pressed overall tempo and somewhat aggressive demeanor.  Those traits are married to Brautigam’s usual incisiveness.  His approach ends up sounding a bit like Friedrich Gulda’s Amadeo recording, though with more tonal variety and a “stringy” sound.  The Allegretto may turn some people off since it’s basically the same as the opening movement, though just a bit slower.  It sounds quite stark.  The Rondo is a bit more relaxed, the aggressive middle section notwithstanding.  Overall, this is a nice, splash-of-cold-water type reading.  Those wanting something lighter may not like it.  The second sonata is a bit more relaxed, and the opening Allegro shows that from the outset as it sounds nicely lyrical.  It also manages a neat trick by sounding pressed and pointed at the same time.  It sounds a bit more mischievously jocular than normal, too.  The Andante is quick, fun, and is a nigh on perfect spring-in-the-step march-cum-variations movement.  The concluding Scherzo starts off somewhat relaxed, but it doesn’t take long for Brautigam to take off, displaying more dazzling articulation and nimbleness.  A quite fine reading.

The disc ends with the great – yes, great – Op 22 sonata.  Brautigam opens with an Allegro con brio that sounds satisfyingly brisk and snappy, with heaps o’ brio and drive.  Brautigam also delivers a surprisingly wide dynamic range and pounds out the notes when necessary.  The playing is very direct and unaffected, though it doesn’t really probe beneath the surface.  The Adagio con molto espressione sounds fast and taut for an Adagio, though I must confess that I found it a bit wanting in terms of expression.  It’s cool and terse, but those traits actually work rather well as done here.  They don’t create a new reference, though.  The Minuetto is much the same, and lacks any hint of dance-like features, and the trio is less muscular than expected.  The concluding Rondo is again aggressive and at times bitingly intense, with superbly executed accelerations in all the right spots. 

I think I’ve got Brautigam’s style down now, and I like it.  It’s fast and lean and muscular and rhythmically astute and crisply played, with a broad color palette.  It’s somewhat like Gulda (except for the color palette part) on a period instrument.  I prefer Gulda, of course, but Brautigam ain’t half bad.  The sound of the instrument continues to detract from the music for me, but I may very well try the whole cycle as it is released.  I am curious to hear how some later works will sound, like, say, Op 106.  Good stuff.

Flawless sound, as expected.
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Offline SonicMan46

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #12 on: June 24, 2007, 02:20:05 PM »
Todd - as usual, I greatly appreciate you efforts in these outstanding reviews - I recently bought Brautigam in the Mozart Piano Sonatas and enjoy the contrast of the pianoforte vs. the collections I own on the standard piano; looking forward to your continuing perusal of this Beehoven series - thanks again -  :D

Offline Bunny

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #13 on: June 24, 2007, 06:59:09 PM »
Hi Todd,

Thanks for the review of Volume 1.  Hopefully you won't become bored with the fortepiano sound too quickly, and will continue to give us the reviews as the later volumes come out.  Perhaps you will even listen to a different fortepiano cycle for comparison, such as Paul Komen's highly regarded recordings.

I find that I am inexorably drawn to the various fortepiano recordings because I am always wondering what Beethoven was hearing as opposed to what he was imagining.  I don't think a piano has been crafted yet that can live up to Beethoven's imagination.

Offline FideLeo

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #14 on: June 25, 2007, 04:47:07 PM »
I find that I am inexorably drawn to the various fortepiano recordings because I am always wondering what Beethoven was hearing as opposed to what he was imagining.  I don't think a piano has been crafted yet that can live up to Beethoven's imagination.

This is particularly true because Beethoven was never quite specific about what he really wanted in a pianoforte. 
HIP for all and all for HIP! Harpsichord for Bach, fortepiano for Beethoven and pianoforte for Brahms!

Offline Todd

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #15 on: July 24, 2007, 06:27:10 PM »
I so enjoyed my first two go-rounds with Brautigam and Beethoven that I thought it was about time I tried another.  Volume 2, dedicated to Op 2 and Op 49, got the nod.  It’s even better than the first two discs I tried.

The disc opens with the F minor sonata, and right away it seems as though Brautigam is right at home.  The repeatless opening Allegro (shame on Ron!) starts off fast and the whole movement is about concision, intensity, and thrills.  This is hard-driven, hard-hitting early stuff.  Hot damn!  The Adagio is slow, or at least slower, and Brautigam (and his instrument) does a better job than in other slow movements of conveying the emotion of the music.  The Menuetto is characterized by deliberately quiet playing and fiery forte playing, with a grimace-inducing middle section.  The concluding Prestissimo is all one could want: stormy, biting, high-intensity good stuff.  Throw in Brautigam’s usual superb clarity and dexterity, and one has contender, even when one considers modern grands.

The second sonata opens with a suitably light, breezy, and fun Allegro vivace, though Brautigam knows to throw in potent chords and dazzling runs to mix things up a bit.  The middle section sounds forceful, potent, and is dashed off with assertive flair.  The last part of the movement veers almost toward aggressiveness – and I like it!  The Largo appassionato sounds a bit more Allegretto than Largo, and while it’s undeniably gripping and tense, I’m not sure it’s too passionate.  Oh well.  The Scherzo is fast and aggressive to open, with slight relaxation in the slower music.  The middle section is suitably slow, and Brautigam darkens the hue of his playing just a bit.  The concluding Rondo is indeed grazioso, with Brautigam letting up and letting the music flow, with true lyricism and fun showing through.  The middle sections sounds more intense as it should, and a few unabashed virtuosic passages fly by, as does the work.  Another corker.

The final sonata of the opening trio is as good as the first two.  The Allegro con brio starts off quick and light, but quickly transforms into shot-from-a-cannon playing during the ascending passages.  The speed never really slows, though there’s enough flexibility to let everything shine through.  Yes, Brautigam adopts a very showy approach, but then this is a very showy work.  Finally, in the Adagio a truly slow (relatively speaking, of course!) tempo is used, with decent emoting to boot.  The tolling bass after 2’20” is very effective, again demonstrating this pianist’s ability to extract a big sound from this not so big sounding instrument.  Likewise, the bracing chords after 4’45” attack the ear, but in a pleasurable way.  The Scherzo is not for the squeamish: fast, incisive, aggressive, and thrilling, only the middle offers a reprieve by replacing ‘aggressive’ with ‘assertive.’  The Allegro assai actually surprises a bit in that Brautigam doesn’t dash off the music at a dizzying speed, but rather at a more relaxed speed.  A bit more charm and fun emerges as a result.  Deft fingerwork abounds, of course, but he ends the piece in a more smiling fashion.

The disc ends with the Op 49 sonatas, and both are generally brisk and chipper.  A bit of warmth shows up in the Andante of the first one, and the second flows along nicely enough in both movements.  Both come off as trifles, really, but interesting, vigorous trifles. 

Of the three discs I’ve heard in this cycle, this is easily my favorite.  Everything works together perfectly, and even the sound of the instrument doesn’t detract from the proceedings.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to say the same thing about Op 10/3 or the Pathetique, let alone the later works (though one never knows!), but here it just don’t matter a whit.  A peach of a disc.

Top of the line sound, as expected.
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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #16 on: July 25, 2007, 05:06:09 AM »

The only question for me is when will Brautigam finish this cycle and put out a complete box?

Offline Todd

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #17 on: July 25, 2007, 05:30:37 AM »
The only question for me is when will Brautigam finish this cycle and put out a complete box?


Volume 5 is just out, so there's a lot left to go.  When you consider that 1.) he's recording all of LvB's solo piano music and not just the sonatas, and 2.) his completed Haydn cycle isn't out in box-set form yet, you must conclude that you have years to wait until a box appears.  Perhaps 5-10?  It's probably not worth the wait; buy now.
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Offline Gurn Blanston

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #18 on: July 25, 2007, 07:03:14 AM »
Someone here emailed BIS about this (Bunny maybe?) and they said that they probably weren't going to put them out in a box. It looks like Mozart is/was the only one to get the box treatment. :-\

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Offline Que

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Re: Ronald Brautigam Plays Beethoven
« Reply #19 on: July 25, 2007, 07:25:06 AM »
Someone here emailed BIS about this (Bunny maybe?) and they said that they probably weren't going to put them out in a box. It looks like Mozart is/was the only one to get the box treatment. :-\

8)

Yes, Bunny mailed them about the Haydn sonatas.

If we take the Mozart as an indication: recording of the sonatas was concluded in 1996 - complete sonatas set was issued in 2000, variations concluded in 1997 - separate variations set issued in 2001. The set with both the sonatas & the variations was only issued in 2006 - 5 years later.

My conclusion: they'll wait probably 4 years after the last LvB volume.
There are now 5 volumes, they'll need at least 8 for the sonatas and 2 for the rest.
They'll probably follow the same procedure: first an issue with the complete sonatas, followed several years later by a set with all the piano works...

I guess Todd's estimation is pretty accurate! :)

Q