Elisabeth Brauss (piano)
March 13 2022
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Playing of elegance and effortless transparency from a rising piano star
It fell to young German pianist Elisabeth Brauss to bring the 2021-22 Sunday Piano Series to a conclusion. Nobody wants good things to end, of course, but her thoughtful and superbly executed programme seemed a particularly fitting way to say goodbye to the current season and look forward to the next.
Elisabeth is only 27 yet has won all sorts of awards: she’s a BBC New Generation Artist, has performed at the Proms and played with many of the world’s leading orchestras. Recently she has been awarded the prestigious Terence Judd Award, given to a young artist destined for a major international career. Judging by her Sunday performance in Nottingham, hers is a name we shall be hearing much more of in the future.
She began her recital with Mozart’s Variations, K. 265, based on a theme which we know as ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’. When Elisabeth introduced it, she said it was one of her favourite pieces – and her obvious affection for it shone through her playing. It requires the lightest of touches as well as an ability to keep all the musical strands as untangled and transparent as possible. Unsurprisingly it has a childlike innocence about it – but Mozart takes us by surprise too. Two of the Variations are much more profound than the rest – one in a poignant minor key and a sad, slow one just before the end. The balance Elizabeth achieved between simplicity and profundity was very well-judged and set the tone for the whole programme.
More Variations followed, this time by Felix Mendelssohn: the Variations Sérieuses in D minor. There was nothing frivolous about these: none of the frothy virtuosity-for-its-own-sake that could be expected from other composer-pianists of Mendelssohn’s day. Here the technical difficulties (and there are plenty of those) serve weightier purposes. Elisabeth proved that she was the equal of all Mendelssohn’s demands, right up to the dazzling ending where it seems as if one hand is chasing the other until they synchronise in the closing bars.
Ravel’s Sonatine is a ‘little’ sonata only in terms of its length: it’s certainly not ‘little’ in terms of its technical difficulty or expressive content. Elisabeth made its textures completely translucent, its challenges sounding easy and fluid. The third movement was brilliant yet lyrical, full of magical sonorities and vivid tonal colours.
The final piece was Chopin’s 2nd Scherzo, an exhilaratingly virtuosic way for Elisabeth Brauss to bring her recital (and the season) to a close. The programme was scheduled to last one hour and her last note sounded just as the Council House clock began striking 12. It may have been a coincidence but it was appropriate for piano playing that had been as precise as it was perceptive.
Elisabeth Brauss playing in the Sunday Piano Series at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall