Wednesday, 14 January 2015

A superb recital disc of works by Debussy and Chopin from Sarah Beth Briggs on the Semaphore label shows her to be, without doubt, a very fine Debussy interpreter

Sarah Beth Briggs’ last recording for Semaphore, reviewed by me in October last year, gave us some extremely fine performances of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.

In her latest recording for Semaphore, Sarah Beth Briggs features works by Debussy and Chopin and is, if anything, even finer.


Opening with Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque she brings a clarity and firmness to the Prelude that beautifully offsets the many moments of Debussy’s fleeting beauty. Her tone and touch are exquisite and there is a lovely thoughtfulness and care to her phrasing and tempo. The Menuet has a lovely rhythmic quality, following every change of tempo and rhythm with, at times, a fine sense of breadth, that combined with her gentle subtle rubato, is quite beautiful.

Clair de Lune has a sense of re-discovery. Taken at a relatively slow pace it is wonderfully controlled, unfolding with great beauty with this pianist providing a lovely rippling touch as the piece develops. It is so well shaped with a fine sense of completeness as the music reaches its conclusion. Passepied brings a fine forward rhythmic momentum with moments of lovely breadth and flow, Sarah Beth Briggs revealing so many little details.

The sense of re-discovery I have mentioned might aptly be applied to the whole of this wonderful performance.

Chopin sits so well with the music of Debussy, not surprisingly given how much he later admired Chopin. Sarah Beth Briggs brings an equal thoughtfulness to Chopin’s Ballade No.1 in G minor, Op.23 with moments of much passion and fire. At times she shows a lovely freedom and spontaneity and certainly knows how to build this work structurally. It must be said that her technique is quite superb as she brings something new and personal to this work.

Chopin’s Berceuse in D flat major, Op.57 is beautifully laid out with a direct opening combined with a beautifully limpid touch. I particularly like the way Sarah Beth Briggs provides an anchor with her left hand tempo, so finely held. This pianist extracts so many fine tones and colours in this exquisite performance that one just wants to just listen over and over again.  

Chopin’s Fantaisie in F minor, Op.49 opens darkly and tentatively with this pianist slowly and subtly allowing the music to develop. As the music broadens, Sarah Beth Briggs brings a slight Debussian touch before leading into stormier waters with some extremely fine playing, Chopin’s dramatic framework fully revealed. There is a lovely quiet and thoughtful contrasting section before the music’s stormier nature returns, reminding one at times of Schumann.  There is a fine sense of freedom and later some very fine virtuosic passages.

Sarah Beth Briggs brings a real sense of wonder and fantasy to Chopin’s Scherzo No.4 in E major, Op.54 full of freedom with lovely rhythmic qualities and so many subtleties, building beautifully in the dramatic passages before some lovely rippling phrases and a very fine coda.

Sarah Beth Briggs returns to Debussy to conclude this fine recital with his Pour le piano. Her fine touch brings a buoyant Prelude beautifully nuanced and with some phenomenally impressive dramatic passages.  Her fine phrasing and care of every nuance brings a very fine Sarabande capturing entirely the essence of Debussy’s sound world before the concluding Toccata where her very fine rubato combined with her lovely touch and phrasing provides all one could want.

This is a superb recital disc.  Sarah Beth Briggs is, without doubt a very fine Debussy interpreter, often revealing these works afresh.

She is extremely well recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, England and there is a nicely produced booklet with excellent notes from Sarah Beth Brigs.

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