This is English pianist Sarah Beth Briggs' fourth
solo CD, all on the independent Semaphore label - see reviews of previous
Mozart and/or Beethoven have been permanent features of these recordings,
both indeed appearing together here and on her last disc. Other works
have all come from core repertoire, lending her programmes an air of
irresistibility to adherents of the Classical-Romantic axis in which
Briggs specialises. As before, a strength of this CD is the fact that
the works have been selected and ordered by Briggs herself rather than
by a man in a suit - the listener will find distinct 'echoes' of Mozart's
work in Beethoven's, and Beethoven's in Schubert's.
Briggs dedicates this recording to the memory of her teacher Denis Matthews,
who died in sad circumstances 25 years ago. In the notes she thanks
him for introducing her to Schubert's final B flat Sonata, which she
rightly describes as "one of the greatest pieces of music ever written".
Music-lovers too will thank him, for Briggs gives a commanding account
of this emotionally and physically demanding masterpiece.
She opens, though, in immediately striking style with Mozart's Fantasy
in C minor, one of his most innovative and imaginative works for piano.
Atmospheric and profound, like a time-travelling score from Beethoven's
desk, it is also one of Mozart's most recorded solo piano works, thrusting
Briggs instantly up against a welter of great pianists - renowned Mozarteans
like Uchida, Pires, Barenboim, Haebler; period specialists like Brautigam,
Bezuidenhout, Immerseel, Rampe; those usually associated with other
composers, like Hough, Ciccolini, Kempff, Gieseking; and a stack of
others in individual works.
The marketplace for Mozart is a mere mêlée
with the number of blue-riband accounts available for both Beethoven
and Schubert - it is very difficult indeed for a 21st-century pianist
to cordon off any part at all of this performance arena, especially
one with a relatively low media profile like Briggs. However, not all
can be considered 'authentic', by any stretch - Alfred Brendel's misjudged
'deletion' of the first-movement repeat in the Schubert, for example
- and certain others would likely have Beethoven in particular turning
in his grave.
Briggs herself pays due respect to Beethoven's grave
- that is,
the opening of the 'Pathétique' - and therein lies the big attraction
of her interpretations: they give the listeners the composer
rather than the performer. She has all the requisite attributes: technical
prowess, crisp articulation, thoughtful, idiomatic phrasing, an elegant
sense of expressive restraint, meticulous attention to dynamics, physical
and mental strength, and above all a sense of awe for the beautiful
artworks she performs and for their creators as they speak through her.
Like the three earlier releases, this one was recorded at Potton Hall,
and sound quality is good - not as clear as some recordings, admittedly,
but still more than adequate to do the music and music-making justice.
The accompanying booklet has improved on previous ones, with more detailed
tracklistings, some nice artwork and more naturalistic photos of Briggs
than before. Briggs's own notes provide a satisfactory amount of detail
on the music, including an account of personal performing decisions.
As usual, the booklet in PDF format is available free from her website
Contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
Masterwork Index: Beethoven