Mendelssohn: 2 Piano Concertos - Brautigam, Willens
Classical - Orchestral
Mendelssohn: Rondo brillant in E flat major, Op. 29, Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25, Capriccio brillant in B minor, Op. 22, Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 40, Serenade and Allegro giojoso, Op. 43
Ronald Brautigam (Pleyel piano)
Die Kölner Akademie
Michael Alexander Willens (conductor)
Ronald Brautigam has recorded more than 60 discs for BIS, including the complete solo keyboard music by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven on the fortepiano. But his first releases on the label, in the mid-1990s, were Felix Mendelssohn’s concertante works for piano and orchestra on modern piano. When he now returns to these scores, it is on a copy of a Pleyel grand piano from 1830 –the year before Mendelssohn composed his Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor. And the orchestra supporting him is the period band Die Kölner Akademie under Michael Alexander Willens, the same team that he has already collaborated with for an acclaimed 11-disc survey of Mozart’s keyboard concertos.
The historically informed accompaniments and the clarity of the solo instrument contribute to performances of a great charm and freshness, shedding a new light on these works. Composed between 1831 and 1838, they were all written primarily for Mendelssohn’s own use as a touring concert pianist, but soon entered the repertoire of many other pianists –especially the G minor concerto, which was extremely popular in the composer’s own time.
Sound engineers: Thore Brinkmann (Take5 Music Production) (Concerto No.1; Capriccio brillant); Christian Starke (Concerto No.2; Rondo brillant; Serenade and Allegro giocoso)
Recording equipment: BIS’s recording teams use microphones from Neumann, DPA and Schoeps, audio electronics from RME, Lake People and DirectOut, MADI optical cabling technology, monitoring equipment from B&W, STAX and Sennheiser, and Sequoia and Pyramix digital audio workstations.
Post-production: Editing and mixing: Ingo Petry
- Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Capriccio brillant in B minor for Piano and Orchestra, MWV O 8 Op. 22
- Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, MWV O 7 Op. 25
- Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor, MWV O 11 Op. 40
- Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Rondo Brillant in E-flat major for Piano and Orchestra, MWV O 10 Op. 29
- Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Serenade and Allegro giojoso in B minor for Piano and Orchestra, MWV O 12 Op. 43
Review by Adrian Quanjer - December 16, 2018
If you think ‘yet another disc of these familiar Mendelssohn’s piano concerti’ you ought to listen to this one: It is in a totally different league than any of the other high resolution releases so far available. Without being dismissive, Martin Helmchen is admirably ‘middle of the road’ pleasing most music lover’s tastes; Ingrid Flitter’s reading is excellent as regards its freshness and youthful élan, but gives you only his first. And the same applies to Danae Dörken giving a glowing Mendelsohn’s second. Here we have both with the same team that have turned the historical interpretations of the complete Mozart piano concerti into such a widely acclaimed success.
Skipping, for the purpose of this review, track one and moving directly to Mendelssohn’s virtuoso Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, it becomes immediately chrystal clear that the proven strength of the unique Brautigam – Willens partnership will send you, by way of speaking, straight unto Paradise with an exceptionally vivid reading of both outer movements, enveloping an intensely and sensitively singing andante. The McNulty copy of the 1830 Pleyel of Mendelssohn’s time sparkles under the fingers of Ronald Brautigam, whereas Willens has reinforced his band to the appropriate strength for combining romantic warmth with expressive vibration. Listen to the trumpets of Hannes Rux and Astrid Brachtendorf at the beginning of the third movement (and elsewhere), as well as the overall precision of Michael Willens, leading his players with a steady pulse while shunning unnecessary extravaganza, as so many period advocates see as their ultimate goal, supporting hand in glove the sheer excellence of the soloist. This sets the tone for all of the rest to follow.
Mendelssohn is no doubt one of the greatest wizards of melody. And not just for the sake of it, but also to putting those together in such a coherent and intellectual fashion that it can keep an audience spellbound from beginning to the end. All it needs for that purpose is the brilliance and excellence of the interpreters. For those who are not entirely in the know about the mechanical structures of period pianos in comparison to a modern Grand, it may be pointed out that handling fast passage work on a Pleyel is not as easy as one might think. Over the years Ronald Brautigam has abundantly shown to be one of those players who not only can, but is also able to bringing out at the same time the emotional and musical content, which is in Mendelssohn’s second piano concerto so convincingly on display. It made my day.
Both concerti being of moderate duration, BIS has rightly chosen to invite all participants to fill up the space still available with three smaller piano pieces, of which the ‘Serenade and Allegro Giojose’ is perhaps the least known, but all the same the more interesting one as it most likely was meant to be part of a third piano concerto.
Everything is handsomely explained in the detailed liner notes provided by Horst Scholz.
In terms of soundstage, BIS has opted for ambient surround, enough to get the music ‘off the wall’ to create a pleasantly satisfying environment, with a correct balance between orchestra and soloist, thus putting the listener in the best seat. Furthermore, I did not (as possibly headset listeners may) detect any overtly disturbing mechanical noises from the piano. So, in this department, too, this present disc can be unconditionally recommended as an end-of-year-festive-season’s-gift to cheer up those miserably dark and cold days in the Northern Hemisphere.
Copyright © 2018 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net