The complete cycle of Beethoven piano music by fortepianist Ronald Brautigam has been widely and rightly acclaimed: Brautigam has fused his Walter fortepiano copies (by American-Czech builder Paul McNulty) with an expressive style that seems to draw on the instrument's capabilities, not struggle against them. The whole series can be heartily recommended. This said, the contents of this 14th album in the series have generally been explored by serious lovers and students of Beethoven; they range from unusual in recital to downright obscure (which is hard to find when it comes to Beethoven). Most were never published. The largest pieces on the program are variation sets, two of which use the most familiar of British themes, God Save the King and Rule Britannia, as themes. Each of these works is underrated, both for what they show of Beethoven's attitude toward England and for their sheer technique; the more common 32 Variations on an Original Theme, WoO 80, was not recognized as his own by Beethoven when it was played for him later in life. The program is filled out by short pieces, mostly student works and bagatelle-like items that offer plenty to interest the Beethoven buff. If there's a hidden gem it's the pair of waltzes at the end, WoO 84 and WoO 85, both quite short but both representative of the composer's late style (both postdate the Symphony No. 9). Sample the Waltz in E flat major, WoO 84 (track 38), and note how its already wide space between the left and right hands is stretched into transcendence in the subdominant middle section. This is pure late Beethoven. Not the one to start with in Brautigam's series, but recommended either for those acquiring the whole thing or those interested in the truly deep levels of the Beethoven discography.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Sechs Variationen in F major, Op. 34 über ein eigenes Thema|
|Sieben Variationen in C major, WoO78 über "God save the King"|
|Fünf Variationen in D major, WoO79 über "Rule Britannia"|
|Sechs Variationen in D major, Op. 76 "Die Ruinen von Athen"|
|Zwei Präludien Durch Alle Dur-Tonarten for piano or organ, Op. 39|