Sunday 20 October 2013

Some extremely fine Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert from pianist Sarah Beth Briggs on the Semaphore label

Pianist Sarah Beth Briggs  was a pupil of the late Denis Matthews. She gained a Hindemith Scholarship to study chamber music in Switzerland with the violist, Bruno Giuranna, and remained in Lausanne for further studies with Chilean pianist Edith Fischer. Her professional career was launched at the age of eleven when she became, what was at the time, the youngest-ever finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year. Four years later she gained international recognition as joint winner of the International Mozart Competition in Salzburg.

She has performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Hallé Orchestra, London Mozart Players, London Philharmonic Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra, Manchester Camerata, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, and Northern Sinfonia. She has been the featured soloist at major British venues including Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, London’s South Bank auditoria, and the Barbican Centre and has performed in Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy and the USA. She gave the World Premiere of Britten’s Three Character Pieces.

Sarah Beth Briggs has also performed as pianist in several acclaimed chamber groups including Trio Melzi     which celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2010. As a chamber musician, she has featured on BBC2 and Radio 3. In addition to her chamber music coaching and tuition at York University she has given master classes throughout the UK and in the USA. Her concerto performances have led to appearances in many countries, engagements with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra and a series of concerts at San Francisco’s Midsummer Mozart Festival.

Sarah Beth Briggs’ recordings for Semaphore include a disc of Beethoven, Brahms, Britten and Rawsthorne; Haydn, Mozart, Bartok, Brahms and Chopin; and Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart.

A new release from Semaphore features Sarah Beth Briggs performing Mozart’s Fantasy in C minor, K475, Beethoven’s Sonata in C Minor, Op.13 ‘Pathetique’ and Schubert’s Sonata in B flat Major, D960.


From the sense of anticipation in the opening Adagio of Mozart Fantasy in C minor, Sarah Beth Briggs develops a beautifully paced development. There is a fine purity of sound to her playing, yet later, as the Allegro arrives, she so naturally brings fluid dramatic playing. Her poise in the quieter sections really points up the more passionate passages and there is a real sense of overall form.

Sarah Beth Briggs follows on naturally in Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata taking the quiet, Grave opening quickly into the drama of Beethoven, obviously sensing connections. With the arrival of the Allegro di molto e con brio we hear Briggs’ terrific rhythmic bounce, fine articulation and ability to drive this music forward without any sense of being hurried. Again the sense of anticipation she develops in the quieter, more meditative moments, is thrilling, her control of tempi adding so much interest to the music.

In the lovely flowing Adagio cantabile this pianist brings out all the delicate subtleties and, for all the calm, one can sense an underlying tension. She knows just how to phrase the music to great effect. She opens with a fairly understated Rondo: Allegro before developing this music with playing of great fluency and articulation, building to some terrific playing. Sarah Beth Briggs gives such refined playing that always retains clarity and poise.

It is Briggs’ fine control and sense of overall architectural form that marks out her playing of Schubert’s last great Piano Sonata in B flat Major D960. There is, right from the start of the Molto Moderato, a feeling of great things about to happen. As she builds up the development, her persuasive expression and control add to the drama and sense of expectation. The four repeated notes that appear, surely influenced by Beethoven, are almost threatening in their intensity. She has the full measure of the scope of Schubert’s great creation with such fine dynamics and phrasing. How she colours some of the quieter little phrases is rather magical.

This pianist brings a terrific atmosphere to the opening of the Andante Sostenuto, quiet haunting in character, until it becomes more expansive. There is some lovely playing after the opening tempo returns later on, leading to the tranquil coda. The Scherzo. Allegro Vivace con delicatezza brings relief from the intensity of the Andante with some very fine playing, such a lovely touch, so light, sprung and nimble, a joy to listen to, so exquisitely done.

The Allegro ma non troppo is no less joyful with Sarah Beth Briggs providing playing that is full of rhythmic panache as well as reflecting every contour of the music. There is no lack of drama in the more passionate sections where Briggs really throws herself into it with playing of great thrust and impetuosity.

This is an extremely fine CD with a particularly fine Schubert performance. There is a nicely produced booklet with notes by Sarah Beth Briggs. The recording made at Potton Hall, Suffolk, England, the venue for so many fine recordings, is excellent.

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