Meet Sarah Beth Briggs, born 1972 in Newcastle upon Tyne, and a young pupil of Denis Matthews (who died in 1988). She is no stranger to awards or the recording studio, and I hope this first time for me to listen to her musicianship won’t be the last.
The opening movement of Schubert’s A-major Piano Sonata (D664) is bewitching: shapely phrasing, sensitive touch, and attentively yet naturally dynamic. This is a lovely performance overall, soulful in the slow movement, frolicsome and feisty in the Finale.
Briggs’s Haydn and Mozart are no-less impressive. From the former a gentle set of Variations on a well-known National Anthem (the clue as to which one is in the album’s title) and the C-major Sonata (Hoboken 50), the outer movements bursting with wit, charm and playfulness, and there’s plenty of deep expression in the Adagio. Contrasting is the A-minor turbulence of Mozart’s Sonata K310, the opening Allegro maestoso not rushed by Briggs to fully reveal inner tensions, to which the central Andante is a large-scale and transporting riposte, whereas the Finale is ideally impetuous, as if being chased by shadows.
Also included are Three Preludes (Opus 65, from 1944) by Hans Gál (1890-1987). Briggs has previously championed Gál’s music, not least recording for Avie the Piano Concerto with Kenneth Woods conducting. The Preludes are very engaging, whether nervously scampering, scintillating (I), reminiscing in song (II) or suggestive of an unstoppable spinning wheel. It does stop, of course, which is a shame as I could have stayed on board longer.
If there is slight caveat then it is the somewhat over-bright treble, a combination I think of the acoustic (Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, Leeds, 7-9 January 2020) and the character of the local University’s Steinway D. However, this is no dent whatsoever to Sarah Beth Briggs’s considerable artistry. Avie AV2418.