Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.3 in C op.2 no.3 [27:07]
Piano Sonata No.23 in f op.57 “Appassionata” [24:12];
Piano Sonata No.30 in E op.109 [20:10]
Angela Brownridge (piano)
rec. Westvest Church, Schiedam, Netherlands, October 7-8 2015

This is the first release in a planned series of three CDs recorded for Challenge Classics by Angela Brownridge, presenting what she affectionately calls her dream project - recitals devoted to some of her favourite works by Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy. Ms Brownridge has a deep love and affinity for Beethoven and here she presents a well-balanced programme of three sonatas from the composer’s early, middle and late periods.

I recently reviewed a set of three Cameo Classics CDs, The Great Pianist Composers, by this artist (review) and gave them an enthusiastic welcome from a musical point of view, despite some minor technical glitches in the recording. The hallmarks of those Cameo performances were the natural phrasing, clarity of articulation and emotional restraint. This Beethoven recital has similar virtues.

The Piano Sonata No.3 in C may be from Beethoven’s early period but it’s a large-scale piece in four movements. The opening Allegro con brio, thematically reminiscent of the C major piano concerto, certainly has considerable brio here and the playing is full of energy. The feminine elements are balanced with some passages of real masculine power, culminating in a short cadenza and a superb coda. The slow movement is given a reading of depth and serenity but maybe the very opening could be a bit more hushed. The scampering scherzo brings to mind the Saint-SaŽns 2nd piano concerto and is presented with clean delivery here. I struggle to hear the triplets in the trio section but that may be down to the acoustic or the way the piano was prepared. The concluding Allegro assai is one of Beethoven’s playful movements and there is some quicksilver playing here from Ms Brownridge. This is a really satisfying performance and what we get is Beethoven without any idiosyncrasies or unnecessary interpretative points made at the expense of the composer.

The Sonata No.30 in E major Op.109 is an extraordinary work. The first movement starts with a wistful Schumann-like romance and this is followed by music of great tragedy. These two contrasting sections are then repeated. What exactly was going through the composer’s mind here? He seems to be torn between two contrasting emotions. The result is very moving. The Prestissimo is disturbing and angry, rhythmically exciting and tight. Finally we come to the heart of the sonata - the Theme and Variations, spanning 13 minutes. The theme is presented expressively with a singing tone, as marked in the score. The variations are technically demanding and serious in nature, requiring considerable virtuosity and strength. This recording sounds like a single take and the listener is drawn into a something akin to a live performance with a palpable sense of occasion.

The “Appassionata” is my own favourite sonata in the Beethoven cycle. This is a tremendously exciting recording of the work. The opening Allegro assai gives us more Beethoven without frills, Beethoven as written in the score. There is poetry, power and an extraordinary pui allegro to finish. A straightforward, sweetly played Andante con moto takes us into the call to arms at the beginning of the final Allegro ma non troppo. The sensible non troppo tempo adopted by the pianist here, allows all those torrents of runs to be heard clearly. There are faster, more viscerally exciting accounts to be heard but this is special in its own way. In orchestral terms it’s in the Klemperer camp so to speak, where articulation is the key priority. Ms. Brownridge is at complete ease and the virtuoso passages are heard as an integral part of the music rather than technical obstacles to be cleared. It all sounds pretty seamless.

This is a thoroughly engaging recital supported by a wonderfully clear, sonorous piano sound. I return regularly to the complete cycles recorded by Brendel (Vox) and Kempff (DGG) but as a stand-alone disc this Challenge Classics release can be highly recommended as a refreshing alternative. I look forward to hearing volumes two and three.
John Whitmore

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