20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2005
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.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2005
After the first 30 seconds of the op 13 sonata, anyone holding onto the idea that the fortepiano is too lightweight to do justice to Beethoven's mighty sonatas must either repent or leave the room. Ronald Brautigam has once again embarked on a series of solo keyboard recordings in repertoire crowded with classic perfomrances from world famous artists; but, of course, Brautigam uses period instruments.
First, it was a Mozart cycle on BIS that brought Brautigam into the limelight. Before that series was even finished, a Haydn cycle was undertaken. Both series exhibit a tremendous virtuosity while dispelling misconceptions about the potential range of expression from a fortepiano. Brautigam's readings challenge such well known stars as Brendel, Barenboim, Gieseking, Uchida, and more.
But who would expect that Brautigam could approach the genius of a Schnabel, Brendel, Pollini, Gilels, Kempff, Rubinstein, or hordes of other legends whose names have graced dozens of outstanding recorded performances over the decades, and on a fortepiano at that. Make no mistake about it, I do not suggest that Brautigam surpasses any of these hall-of-fame artists, but he certainly joins them.
The first work on this disk, the "Pathetique", speaks well for the remainder of the four sonatas represented here, and hopefully for the rest of the series too. The first movement has incredible dynamic range. Hearing the recording for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the impact of some of the climaxes. Comparing the reading to conventional intrument recordings, I am reminded of being at the top of 13,000 foot high Mount Shasta many years ago. It was breathtaking, but because all of the surrounding hills were so high also, the effect bore no comparison to some overlooks around Death Valley, where 10,000+ high peaks rise up over a valley that is below sea level. With the instrument Brautigam uses in this recording, the quiet passages are like the low points in Death Valley with the climaxes being like the 10,000 foot peaks around the rim of Death Valley. And the effect is magnificent. In the slow movement, Brautigam has even more expressive abilities at his fingertips, capturing the quiet sublimity of Beethoven's textures with much more breadth than would be possible on a modern piano. And the fast rhythms of the finale dance with great excitement.
As always, BIS excels in the recording with awesome accoustics. And, for no extra charge, you get this in a hybrid CD that can be played on a normal CD player, but will yield even finer results on an SACD player if you have/get one.
Lets hope BIS can stay with the series until it finishes. Many record companies have pulled the plugs on long series in recent years. BIS has yet to do so with any of their spectacular complete editions. Keep up the good work, BIS.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2005
This is the only fortepiano recording of Beethoven's music I have ever heard that to me conveys the full power, drama, and clarity of Beethoven's groundbreaking achievements. This is a full range piano sound, just not the sound of the modern concert grand. The playing is absolutely outstanding and I will eagerly anticipate each volume in this cycle, and hope that the concertos will also be forthcoming. A revelatory experience not to be missed!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2005
Another recording of the Beethoven piano sonatas? Well, it had better be pretty special, and have something new to say. And this indeed is an outstanding recording in every way. Fabulous sound quality. Excellent choice of instrument - a fortepiano, yes, but one with incredible range and tone. The ear quickly adjusts to the sound, and the performance is so good you almost forget you are listening to a "period" instrument (actually, it's a modern fortepiano). The performance is exciting, dynamic, emotionally involving, intellectually stimulating...yes, it's THAT good! Buy this disc! Even better than Brautigam's outstanding Haydn and Mozart cycles.
on March 17, 2013
The sound of this piano is brilliant. I was always curious what sound Beethoven had in mind when he composed this (if he could hear it). I think the articulation is clearer and lighter. Some of the dissonant chords don't sound so heavy as they do on a modern concert grand.
Braugtigan plays these pieces as cleanly and passionately as I have ever heard them played. This is my new reference rendition of the Pathetique. Gorgeous melodys, played gorgiously on a period instrument. Fabulous.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2008
Ronald Brautigam is the best interpreter of Beethoven's sonatas on the pianoforte. These recordings are sublime and essential for any Beethoven fan. They breath with boundless energy and intensity. I cannot recommend these recording highly enough.
For me Ronald Brautigam and Susan Tomes are two of the few keyboard artists around today that can do justice to Beethoven and his music.