- Piano Sonata No. 12 in A flat major ("Funeral March"), Op. 26
- Piano Sonata No. 13 in E flat major ("Quasi una fantasia"), Op. 27/1
- Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor ("Moonlight"), Op. 27/2
- Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major ("Pastoral"), Op. 28
Dutch player Ronald Brautigam, who plays both fortepiano and modern instruments, has received widespread praise for his ongoing series of Beethoven piano sonatas, and this disc, the fourth in the series, does not disappoint. Several Brautigam recordings have featured instruments temporally very closely matched to the music being played, and the fortepiano here, a 2001 copy of an 1802 instrument, seems ideally matched to Beethoven's intentions. The definition of contrasts between its registers is startling. Hear the final movement of the "Moonlight" sonata, track 11 -- it's a thrill ride unlike any heard for a very long time in this most familiar work almost of all in the piano literature. Brautigam is a master of the increased articulation possibilities possible with his instrument, and individual notes seem to jump out of the fast passages with impossible clarity; the percussive blasts in the movement's central C sharp minor chord yield to no Steinway grand in their power. The opening "Moonlight" movement is quiet and almost hypnotic. Sample also the Allegro molto e vivace C minor second movement of the "Piano Sonata No. 13 in E flat major" for a good example of how the high notes on the fortepiano redefine the structure of this music with their clear ringing. Brautigam, it should be clear, does not let the use of a fortepiano preclude him from being a Romantic player. The two Op. 27 sonatas are the highlights here, but both the Op. 26 sonata with its funeral march and the "Pastorale" sonata in D major, Op. 28, offer moments that are not just fresh but reflective of a process of going back to the music and conceiving of its relationship to its sound world in a whole new way. The fortepiano's capabilities are deployed to turn the opening movement of Op. 28 into a vast exploration of piano textures instead of a spiritual communion with nature, with lots of emphasis on the left-hand parts -- it takes a while to build, and it may seem too cool, but stick with it: it offers awesome variety of sounds, all perfectly controlled. Superb engineering from Sweden's BIS label brings everything together in an experience that places the listener up close to the pianist and in close communion with his lively thoughts. The use of the fortepiano is a tougher sell in Beethoven than in Mozart or Haydn, but this recording is one of the few that could claim to offer Beethoven as he was meant to be heard.
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