Reviews

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A Beethoven Odyssey, Volume 3

 

'A fresh voice in the musical firmament, JAMES BRAWN impresses the listener with his interpretations of Beethoven, by the perfect balance between a very personal reading combined with the most meticulous ear - and fingers - for detail in the written text.'

Alberto Portugheis
Co-Founder and Vice-Chairman, Beethoven Piano Society of Europe
Vice-President, European Piano Teachers' Association

 

“What unites the performances [of the range of Beethoven's Sonatas] is Brawn's authoritative sense of shape and sonority. So far, his playing has been the epitome of lucidity, elegance and drama. There is every reason to expect that his complete set of the sonatas will be a triumphant achievement.”

Donald Rosenberg,Gramophone [November 2014]

5***** "... purely excellent... the sound is warm and analog-like, a perfect antidote to some of the brighter and more egregiously flashy productions that have appeared recently. Brawn seems particularly attuned to the Beethovenian muse, rowdy when needed, delicate and actually ravishing in instances that so often appear in the midst of Beethoven’s turbulence... Brawn’s touch is perfect, his tone excellent, and his technique beyond reproach. Top it off with some interpretative finesse that matches any I have heard in recent years and you have a set that will be very hard to top when completed.”

Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition [Nov, 2014]

“The Tempest is free of idiosyncrasies and is exceptionally well-played... There are many fine moments in Les Adieux, particularly the nuances on display in the first two movements... first-rate sonics complete a package that holds considerable promise for the next six chapters.”

Koldys, American Record Guide [Nov/Dec, 2014]

"…on this volume we hear a real artist at work... Brawn gives us interpretations of elegance more than pure fire... It is pure music, and of course has a brilliance that doesn't always need virtuoso, self-indulging enhancements.

If further volumes are true to form, and I see no reason to doubt that, this will be a cornerstone edition of the complete sonatas…a standard by which others might be measured.

Have a listen and see if you don't agree. James Brawn is Beethoven on this disk. He is the channeling of the Beethoven ethos, personified if you will. Bravo".

Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review [Oct, 2014]

Strongest recommendation

“…Brawn continues not just to hold his own among leading contenders, but to impress with much to offer that is his own…This is definitely shaping up to be one of the finest recent Beethoven piano sonata surveys to come down the pike, and with it James Brawn has established himself as a major keyboard artist”.

Jerry Dubins – Fanfare Magazine [Nov/Dec 2014]

…thoughtful and vital pianism…

4**** "…Brawn shows every sign of thinking beyond the mere technical aspects of these works...Here is a true virtuoso at work. The best so far in a fine series".

Phillip Scott - Australian Limelight Magazine [Nov, 2014]

5***** "…superb creative mastery…Brawn takes excellent advantage of the dynamic possibilities that the piano offers him…his creative imagination is at the same level of excellence as his technical abilities...". (Translated, Marianello)

Remy Frank (President ICMA Jury) - Pizzicato Magazine [July, 2014]

 "[Brawn’s] controlled expressiveness serves the music well, not only in No. 2 but in all the sonatas here. And the sonic environment…is the other especially worthy element of this recording, allowing Brawn both warmth and expansiveness that, together, produce an intimacy in his performances approximating that of a small recital hall rather than (as often in recordings of Beethoven sonatas) a large concert space".

Mark J Estren [August, 2014]

"…[Brawn's] Beethoven is lucid, direct, and most importantly, real... It's honest, clear headed, and most of all, it speaks for itself…"

Jean-Yves Duperron, Classical Music Sentinel, Canada [July 2014]

"The third instalment of James Brawn's Beethoven piano sonata survey (MSR Classics) picks up right where the second left off: brilliantly played and insightfully interpreted...a wonderful balance between the glittering, facile technical element...and a great depth of expression.

Jonathan Blumhofer, Boston ArtsFuse Review [July 9th, 2014]

Beethovenian Brawn

"James Brawn's Beethoven Odyssey is gaining the pianist - and his label - an international reputation. One of the joys of recordings is that a performance - sometimes from an unexpected source - can throw new light on a familiar work.

One year into his Beethoven Odyssey, James Brawn and his US label MSR Classics - neither of them internationally renowned names - have done that for many critics. Brawn's accounts of the piano sonatas have been compared favourably with those from illustrious artists such as Schnabel, Barenboim and Schiff..."

Phil Sommerich, Classical Music Magazine [July, 2014]

"...perhaps the best instalment yet in a treasurable series".

Phil Muse, Audio Society of Atlanta [July 2014]

"In all of his Beethoven recordings to date [Brawn] has shown a fine technique, wonderful control of dynamics, beautiful phrasing, pacing and sense of structure and a fine rubato. Most of all it is his sheer musicianship that shines through...

...James Brawn’s Beethoven is really rather special".


'Masterful handling'

"[James Brawn's] attention to detail is exceptional, and his interpretive choices are exquisite.

…Brawn's playing is spellbinding from the first note to the last...James Brawn has made it. Remember that name".

Andrew Schartman [May 26th 2014]

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James Brawn 'In Recital', Volume 1


True Command

“When James Brawn released the first two volumes of his Beethoven Odyssey, he established himself as one of the greatest living interpreters of Hans von Bülow's 'New Testament'. As we eagerly awaited the third instalment in that series, Brawn gave us another recording, this time of music by Bach, Liszt, Mussorgsky, and Rachmaninoff. And it just so happens to be brilliant…

…Those who derive pleasure from technical fireworks will be pleased with Brawn's performance; and those who value such fireworks only when they are coupled with profound artistry will be delighted. I've always admired the richness and depth of Brawn's tone, especially in technically perilous passages, with which these openers are filled. That Brawn doesn't miss a beat is admirable in itself, but that he does so while shaping beautiful phrases and managing multiple levels of tone is a sign of true command.

…With this program, Brawn proves his versatility as a pianist and his depth as an artist. Having now heard countless performances of this calibre from Brawn's workshop, I no longer wonder whether or not he will receive the international attention he deserves. I wonder only when the inevitable will happen”.

Andrew Schartmann, Music & Vision [8 Oct, 2014]

"...Brawn’s tremendous technique and good taste make this release worth one’s attention...A superb recording."

Kang, American Record Guide [July/August 2014]

“… If one has never listened to this gentleman’s expertise, then perhaps this James Brawn in Recital would be a great place to start”.

Christie Grimstad, ConcertoNet [June 14th, 2014]

"...Brawn’s playing here is, technically, without fault... a virtuoso at work, but also a probing, thoughtful musician with strong, creative programming instincts..."

Jonathan Blumhofer, The Arts Fuse, Boston [May 12th, 2014]

 

 4**** "...Brawn's playing is rhythmically tight...the whole being technically superb...dazzling fingerwork... This is an impressive disc; ,,,highly recommended".

Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill [May 11th, 2014]

"Brawn AND brains in a recital program with true musicality

4****Brilliant pianists tend to be either jaw-dropping virtuosos or they are intensely musical. James Brawn, at 42 years of age, while having the chops at his disposal to negotiate the thundering octaves of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No 1 or Mussorgsky’s Great Gate at Kiev belongs in the second category. He is a musician first: you hear it in the clarity of line maintained throughout the extensive variations of Busoni’s monumental arrangement of the Chaconne from Bach’s Violin Partita No 2, the gentle cantabile of Liszt’s Consolation No 3, and the unaffected fluidity of the C Major Prelude from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier..."

Phillip Scott, Limelight Magazine [May 8th, 2014]

"It’s getting to be a habit—every new recording by Mr. Brawn demands attention"

5***** "...this is one hoot of a recital showing a voice on the international scene that begs attention...Good stuff here."


"… a brilliant display of pianism...among the best piano versions of the Mussorgsky piece I've experienced...[Brawn's] playing is virtuosic and exciting..."


"This young Briton’s gift of coloration is ideal for etching the individuality of the 16 miniatures comprising Mussorgsky’s immensely popular Pictures at an Exhibition. I have yet to hear a more evocative acquittal of this piano original..."

Ian Dando, New Zealand Listener [March 2014]

"...Brawn has a fabulous technique but above all he is a superb musician... This must be one of the finest recital discs I have heard for a long time.

With an excellent recording from Potton Hall, Suffolk, England from the expert team of Jeremy Hayes and Ben Connelan this new release is highly recommended".

The Classical Reviewer [March 2014]

'James Brawn's Remarkable Recording' 4****

"... British pianist James Brawn shows both musicality and virtuosity. By means of a very immediate, full piano sound, [this recording] comes across as exceptionally impressive..." (Translated)

Pizzicato Magazine Luxembourg - Remy Franck’s Journal About Classical Music [March 2014]

"...From the opening measures... I sensed the touch of an important artist at work. Every nuance and shading of the work seems to have been carefully thought out ...wonderfully and evocatively rendered...a major talent is on display here... his is a must-acquire disc for anyone who considers himself an aficionado of pianistic art".

David DeBoor Canfield, Fanfare Magazine, USA [May/June 2014]

“...consummate mastery and superb timing... this pianist’s trademark... sensitivity of touch and phrasing... a recital in which we’ve really been places”.

Phil Muse, Audio Society of Atlanta [February 2014]

4**** “In this recital, [Brawn's] melting sensitivity in Liszt's Consolation No 3 compares with the heft he brings to Rachmaninoff's Prelude in B minor No 10 and to Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. It's impressive. He's definitely one to watch”.

Stephen Pritchard, The Observer [26 October 2013]

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A Beethoven Odyssey, Volume 2

 

'James Brawn's growing series of the complete Beethoven Sonatas reveals him to be a naturally impressive artist in this repertoire. In the 'Moonlight' his playing is beautifully controlled, with firmness and restraint that carries and controls power. In his impressive account of this Sonata, the first two movements contain the forces that break out so violently in the finale, which Brawn admirably refuses to let overwhelm his interpretative perception. The result is a beautiful and deeply controlled account of distinction.'

Robert Matthew-Walker, Editor 'Musical Opinion'

 

4****1/2 "These are very satisfying performances with brain and brawn, bringing to mind many qualities of the great Beethoven interpreters: Kempff, Arrau and Brendel. Further instalments in this cycle are keenly awaited".

Dr Chang Tou Liang, The Straits Times [Sept, 2014]

"This excellent disc of Beethoven sonatas is one I will return to regularly with great pleasure…"

David R Dunsmore - MusicWeb-International [Sept, 2014]

"…a consummate artist...a demonstration of pianistic virtuosity that is quite dazzling...[Brawn] impresses us with his complete command of tonal changes, flexible tempos, shifts of contrast, shadings of expression, and, of course, sheer virtuosity".

John J Puccio (Classical Candour), [May 2014]

5***** "... Brawn has something to say about this repertoire and it’s worth hearing".

Jonathan Blumhofer, The Arts Fuse, Boston [May 12th, 2014]

"[Brawn plays] with considerable musicianship and bravura and is very well recorded...admirable and dedicated".

Colin Anderson, Classical Ear App [May 7th, 2014]

 

"...One of the most affecting performances of the 'Moonlight' sonata on record... Perfect indeed".

Andrew Schartmann, Music & Vision [April 28, 2014]

4**** "Noble, expressive Beethoven with exceptional clarity... an amazing capacity for nuance on all levels, including dynamics, colour and tempi..." (translation)

Remy Franck, Pizzicato Magazine, Luxembourg [April 22, 2014]

A survey of recent Beethoven sonata recordings [BR] Classical Music Reviews - March 2014 - MusicWeb-International

The Waldstein is the highlight of James Brawn’s CD…after this review I look forward to the Brawn series more than any other.

Brian Reinhart, MusicWeb-International [March 2014]

"... a deeply thoughtful interpreter... Brawn possesses all of the technical equipment Beethoven’s sonatas require".

Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone, [March 2014]

"...Some phenomenal playing, full of contrast, colours and nuances... a performance full of charm, so fleet and beautifully phrased...an absolute delight... terrific virtuoso dislay...".

Bruce Reader - The Classical Reviewer, [March 2014]

"... Brawn’s sense of dynamics is especially noteworthy here, as is the colorful sonic ambience of the recording itself ".

Rick Anderson, CD Hotlist - New Releases for Libraries, [March 2014]

"…James Brawn... follows in the footsteps of such masters as Artur Schnabel and Daniel Baremboim…[his] virtuosity, sensitivity and understanding reveal all the subtle beauty in this intense, ravishing music".

.John Pitt, New Classics UK, [Feb 2014]

“…I wouldn’t worry about overcrowding your collection with yet another cycle, especially when it’s one that’s as good as this...”

Jerry Dubins, Fanfare [March/April 2014]

 4**** “I took on Brawn’s first volume here calling it ‘some of the best recent Beethoven playing I have heard’ and thinking that a whole series could be a ‘stunner’… the standards are still very high on this release… the sound remains beautifully warm [and] a more comforting piano sound on a non-surround sound recording you will not hear…keep them coming MSR”!

Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition [December 2013]

“...shows infinite patience as he explores and puts together the carefully ordered mosaic of each of the three major works…”

Phil Muse, Audio Society of Atlanta [October 2013]

”We had to wait for Wednesday 7th August 2013 to eclipse all that had gone before by turning the spotlight on a newcomer, James Brawn, to London's concert platform which he is destined soon to conquer if his three Beethoven sonatas in chronological succession were anything to go by. It is years that I, chairman of this Beethoven Society, have heard his like; already engaged in recording the complete 32 for MSR Classics, his capacity for entering into the Beethoven experience is second to none as when he captures the lightening-quick changes of dynamics from forte to piano subito, of which Beethoven is so fond and performers so chary. Here at last is the true heir to John Lill and Stephen Kovacevich, our two successive jury chairmen of our Beethoven Intercollegiate Piano Competition this year and last.”

Beethoven Piano Society of Europe - Newsletter No.51 [November 2013]
BPSE Summer Festival in Regent Hall, London
Review by BPSE  Chairman, Professor Malcolm Troup

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'A Beethoven Odyssey' Volume 1

 

4****1/2 "These are very satisfying performances with brain and brawn, bringing to mind many qualities of the great Beethoven interpreters: Kempff, Arrau and Brendel. Further instalments in this cycle are keenly awaited".

Dr Chang Tou Liang, The Straits Times [Sept, 2014]

SELECTED AS A "BEST OF YEAR DISC 2013"
AUDIOPHILE AUDITION

"...Brawn proves himself a Beethoven master, and his mastery is fully revealed by MSR’s excellent recordings.”

Jerry Dubins, Fanfare [March/April 2014]

"Beautifully paced...This is very fine playing indeed...[Brawn] has such a fine technique..."

Bruce Reader - The Classical Reviewer, [March 2014]

”... Brawn is an adept interpreter of Beethoven's works and his performance is both authentic and personal...”

Vanessa Cornett-Murtada, Clavier Companion [November/December 2013]

CD Spotlight "...a formidable technique...There is an element of purity in his playing - some ineffable quality - that transforms even the simplest of phrases into something pristine, something perfect…”

Andrew Schartmann, Music & Vision [October 2013]

“... a first-rate performance.”

Koldys, American Record Guide [September/October 2013]

“…excellent instrument and vivid engineering… [the F minor sonata Adagio is] eloquent and well sustained…the Scherzo’s lines [from Sonata No.3] sparkle with character and wit…"

Jed Distler, Gramophone [August 2013]

“... Most interesting and attractive to me is the contrast of colours, pedalling, phrasing, dynamics… I wholeheartedly recommend this recording.”

Alberto Portugheis, EPTA Journal [May 2013]

"Forthright playing..."

BBC Music [June 2013]

5***** “...Brawn’s pianism—and more importantly, his interpretative skills—are formidable indeed, some of the best recent Beethoven playing I have heard".

Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition [May 2013]

"...crisp and forthright, thoughtfully phrased, with a judicious balance between head and heart".

Geoff Brown, The Times, London [22 March, 2013]

"Brawn has everything it takes for a Beethoven interpreter, including an unfailing ear for sonority and dynamics, a superb sense of rhythm...and an intelligent grasp of the entire musical canvas of each sonata…"

Phil Muse, Audio Society of Atlanta [February 2013]

"A tremendous display of pianistic virtuosity with a powerful interpretation."

Evening Telegraph (UK).