Angela Brownridge Impresses Most of All in Beethoven

03/05/2017

Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy: Angela Brownridge (piano), Cadogan Hall, London, 30.4.2017. (RB)

Beethoven – Sonata in C Op.2 No.3; Sonata in F minor Op.57 ‘Appassionata’ Op.57
Chopin – Fantasy in F minor Op.49; Andante Spianato & Grande Polonaise Op.22
Debussy – Préludes from Book 2:  Feuilles Mortes; Feux D’Artifice; Préludes from Books 1 & 2:  Ondine; Ce qu’a vu le vent de l’oeust

Angela Brownridge has recently released recordings of music by Beethoven and Chopin and a further Debussy CD is scheduled for release next year.  This recital provided an opportunity to hear at first hand some of the works which feature on these recordings including the two Beethoven sonatas and the Chopin F Minor Fantasy.

Brownridge opened her recital with Beethoven’s early C major Piano Sonata which was written in 1796; it saw the youthful composer flexing his muscles and breaking into new musical territory.  It is a relatively large scale and technically demanding work and it shows the influence of Haydn to whom all three of the Op 2 sonatas are dedicated.  Brownridge’s performance of this sonata was superb and for me it was the highlight of the recital.  She captured the brilliance of the opening Allegro and brought a nice variety of touch and clean articulation to the passagework including the treacherous double thirds of the opening.  The opening of the Adagio had a burnished eloquence and I loved the Romantic colouring and impressive range of dynamics Brownridge brought to the minor key section.  The contrapuntal exchanges of the scherzo were mischievous and playful while the right hand arpeggios of the trio bubbled along beautifully.  In the finale I was impressed with the way in which Brownridge was able to integrate the contrasting material so seamlessly and the light and artful handling of the material which at one point almost sounded like Mendelssohn.

There was a lot of audience noise during the first half of this recital and I wondered if this may have unsettled Brownridge as her performance of Chopin’s F minor Fantasy was rather splashy.  I liked the spontaneity and freshness which she brought to the opening section and some of the dramatic colour changes and mercurial shifts in mood.  However, there were too many inaccuracies in this performance and Brownridge’s handling of some of the passagework was tentative and untidy in some places.

She regained her composure in the two Debussy preludes which concluded the first half of the recital.  She brought an impressive range of textures and sonorities to Feuilles Mortes and evoked Debussy’s autumnal landscape in a richly imaginative way.  Feux d’Artifice was a little more hit and miss.  There was an impressive build up in the opening section as we heard individual fireworks being launched into the sky.  However, the triplets in the middle section could have been cleaner and the material organised more tightly and there was too much bass in the final rendition of the Marseillaise.

We moved from early to middle period Beethoven at the start of the second half with the ‘Appassionata’.  Beethoven’s pupil Ferdinand Ries, whose own piano music is now receiving more attention, apparently disapproved of the title as he thought it diminished the work.  Brownridge adopted a very Classical approach to this great staple of the repertoire and she gave a very accomplished performance.  The power and the startling dynamic contrasts were very much in evidence in the opening Allegro assai but there was also a clear sense of Classical proportion and architecture.  The second movement had a nobility of purpose and the variations unfolded in a seamless way as Brownridge paid careful attention to phrasing and tempo relationships.  I enjoyed the dark whirling energy of the finale and some of the fine gradations in colour with Brownridge coaxed from her Steinway.  The coda did not quite have the visceral excitement that one hears in other performances although it was perhaps more in keeping with this Classical conception of the work.

As in the first half, Brownridge followed up her Beethoven sonata with Chopin and Debussy starting with the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise.  The smooth ripples of the left hand were controlled beautifully in the Andante Spianato and the supremely lyrical melody was allowed to float and ring out around the hall.  The Grande Polonaise was full of cheeky swagger and the virtuoso passagework dispatched with fleet fingered aplomb.  The audience clearly enjoyed the performance and responded with rapturous applause and Brownridge was forced to remind them that there were another two works to go in the recital.

Brownridge’s performance of Ondine was the best Debussy playing of the evening.  The capricious, mercurial shifts in texture and colour characterised the eponymous water nymph to perfection while the rhythmic figurations in the bass reminded us that threat and menace were never very far away. Brownridge concluded her recital with some startling scene painting in Ce qu’a vu le vent de l’oeust.  The blustry, uncontrolled unpredictability of the west wind was depicted in highly vivid terms and the cascades of notes dispatched with alacrity.

This was a first rate recital from Brownridge and her performance of the Beethoven sonatas in particular was exceptionally fine.

Robert Beattie

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