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LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN - Piano Sonatas Vol. 3 - James Brawn (Piano) - 681585146729 - Released: April 2014 - MSR Classics MS1467

1} Piano Sonata No.2 in A major, Op.2 No.2
2} Piano Sonata No.17 in D minor, Op.31 No.2 "The Tempest"
3} Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat major, Op.81A "Les Adieux"

The ultimate goal that any musician must endeavor to attain should not be technical bravado, stage charisma or fame. As a matter of fact, it's the complete opposite. If a pianist can remove himself, and his instrument, from the sonic picture or, in other words, pull you the listener in so deep within the musical narrative that you lose track of the fact that there's a human being pounding away on a keyboard, then I would say it's "fait accompli".

Now pianist James Brawn is not quite there yet, but with this, the third volume in his traversal of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, he is well on his way of reaching that level of musicianship that sets performers apart. His Beethoven is lucid, direct, and most importantly, real. He doesn't try to make him out to be bigger than life, or to be a poor misunderstood genius. After all I don't think you can get anything more solidly grounded than Beethoven's music. It's honest, clear headed, and most of all, it speaks for itself. Not that Beethoven didn't have a heart, but there's nothing emotionally overt about his music. James Brawn takes it from that perspective, and delivers Beethoven straight up. What's best about his playing is his legato phrasing without the overuse of the damper pedal, which always results in an unclouded and clear interpretation. I also appreciate the fact that he doesn't change his playing style from classical to romantic as he advances through the sonatas chronologically. It's Beethoven all the way through. The snags that prevent James Brawn from fading into the background are his dynamics. I find his accents too loud in relation to the other notes around them, to the point where sometimes they jar the listener's contemplation. And some of his fortes are often more like fortissimos. But then, could that simply be caused by microphones positioned to close to the strings. The recording could have benefited with a bit more air between the instrument and the listener. Hopefully the remaining recordings in his Beethoven odyssey will remedy those slight distractions, and let us hear, through the hands of James Brawn, undistilled Beethoven.

Jean-Yves Duperron - July 2014