Following on from Volume 11 which has a superb Eroica Variations, Ronald Brautigam’s excellent journey through Beethoven’s complete works for solo piano continues in volume 12 with further variations. This time it’s a group from earlier in his career. The Dressler Variations were Beethoven’s first published work, and are pleasant enough though pretty light-weight stuff, as are the almost aphoristic Sechs Variationen über ein Schweizer Lied.
After recording the complete solo fortepiano works of Haydn, it was inevitable that Ronald Brautigam would record the complete fortepiano concertos of Haydn. Of course, it helps that while Haydn's complete solo fortepiano works take up 11 discs, his complete fortepiano concertos take up only a single disc, so Brautigam could record it before moving on to record the inevitable complete fortepiano music of Beethoven. On its own, Brautigam's recording of Haydn's concertos is wonderful: light, bright, ebullient, full of humanity, and suffused with poetry. Brautigam's tone is clear but ringing, his touch is graceful but powerful, his interpretations characterful but self-effacing.
The sixth disc in this highly acclaimed series combine two works in which Mozart's powers as an orchestrator come to the fore. Concerto No. 18 in B flat major, K 456, is sometimes referred to as one of the composers military concertos on the basis of the march-like main theme of the first movement. But more striking is the variety of ways that Mozart employs the various groups of instruments: strings, wind instruments and, of course, the piano. This aspect certainly didn't pass unnoticed by a listener as initiated as Mozart's father Leopold: in a letter to his daughter Nannerl he described how his enjoyment of the orchestral interplay had brought tears to his eyes.
"…In the hands of Willems and Brautigam, this masterpiece is given a first class performance, particularly in its buoyant Finale, a sonata-rondo in which the piano and orchestra really are cavorting joyfully together. The two concertos on this disc's menu may well offer the best performances of the series so far, yielding first class solo and orchestral playing as well as the best recording of any period Mozart concerto series at this time." ~sa-cd.net
Joseph Martin Kraus, the German-born Swedish composer who was an almost exact contemporary of Mozart, is primarily known as a late classical symphonist of extraordinary importance, and heretofore this is where recording of his output has been concentrated. On Bis' Joseph Martin Kraus: The Complete Piano Music, pianist Ronald Brautigam comes to terms with the slim amount of keyboard music that belongs to Kraus, a cycle previously addressed on Naxos by pianist Jacques Després on a modern instrument. On the Bis, Brautigam uses a reproduced Walther & Sohn fortepiano built by Paul McNulty, an 1802 instrument that has a sound almost indistinguishable from that of a modern piano, except for its more limited range and shorter decay time. This seems to suit Kraus' keyboard music, which is rich in ideas but spindly in texture, a bit better than a modern instrument. Likewise, Després interpretations of Kraus' music sound read through at times and betray a sense of less than complete familiarity. This is not a challenge for Brautigam, who clearly knows, and loves, these willful and eccentric pieces of Kraus.
…Until I heard Brautigam on this SACD. This is for me his greatest achievement over the 7 Beethoven discs. A breathtaking feeling for everything on the right place. His tempo, speed, accents, volume, absolutely everything is combined to 1 unique reading. Yes, this is a Beethoven sonata! I experienced how Beethoven’s genius, Brautigams insight & virtuosity & the sound of the instrument blended to one grasping, divine moment of beautiful music.Then for artist & listener a demanding fugue is heavenly presented, the complex structure comes out crystal clear. Add the marvelous sound of the SACD medium & one can consider this SACD as a new reference in recording history. I hope we don’t have to wait another year for the Last Sonatas…" ~sa-cd.net
"…Like the previous releases in this series, BIS's sound is excellent. All I can say are the usually adjectives of praise. Since I received this disc a month and a half ago I've probably listened to the Eroica Variations nearly 20 times – like the previous releases, it's Beethoven played to perfection." (sa-cd.net)