Notes and Editorial Reviews
Early Beethoven - still plenty of surprises in store.
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.
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. It is with the
Vierundzwanzig Variationen über Venni Amore, WoO 65 that we sense Beethoven getting into his stride, with stunning surprises along the way which are
all the more striking after yet another disarmingly simple opening. Dynamic extremes, trills and extravagant runs and unexpected modulations all combine to generate a physical assault course which Roeland Hazendonk rightly compares to the much later
Impressed by an opera by Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Beethoven wrote his
Dreizehn Variationen über Es war einmal ein alter Mann in his last year in Bonn before moving to Vienna. Beethoven makes the most out of a strange feature of the aria, a break in the middle of a central cadence. This is used as the strongest feature of the work and one which you find listening out for in antici - pation with each new variation. The
Zwölf Variationen über das Menuett à la Vigano saw Beethoven riding the wave of popularity in order to make his living, in this case of a ballet by Jakob Haibel which was in vogue in 1795. The four-square theme actually sounds rather fun on Brautigam’s pungently rhythmic fortepiano, and you can sense Beethoven working with fluid and inventive ease on this limited material.
Another popular tune, this time by Paisiello, was taken for the
Neun Variationen über Quant’ è più bello. This was apparently a speedy response to one of Beethoven’s many female flames and written with her pianistic limitations in mind. This is charming music, but not a work to set the world alight. The same goes for the
Sechs Variationen über Nel cor più non mi sento, though this is a tune you are more likely to recognise.
As on the previous releases in this series, Brautigam has chosen to perform these early variations on a fortepiano after a Walter & Sohn instrument from c.1805, beautifully recorded as usual by the BIS team. This instrument has a light tone and touch but is by no means limited in terms of dynamic range, and Ronald Brautigam performs even the least inspiring of these works with a conviction and musicality which makes you believe in their worth. In its own right this is more than a mere set of curiosities, and especially the
Venni Amore variations are very impressive. As part of the series this release is indispensable.
-- Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International
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