Weber: Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra - Brautigam, Willens
BIS BIS 2384
Classical - Orchestral
Carl Maria von Weber:
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, WeV N. 9
Piano Concerto No. 2 in E flat major, WeV N. 15
Konzertstück in F minor, WeV N. 17
Ronald Brautigam, fortepiano
Die Kölner Akademie
Michael Alexander Willens, conductor
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - February 7, 2021
Mainly through his operas Der Freischütz, Euryanthe, and Oberon, Carl Maria von Weber has become the celebrity he was. But ‘the first German romantic opera composer’ has offered more to the world of classical music like, for instance, these three piano concertante works. Although in his time praised for his compositional skill and perfectionist style, some claim that compared to Mozart, Beethoven, and even one or two lesser-known contemporaries, the profundity of his concertante orchestrations lacks ingenious conviction. They may be right, though we must at the same time appreciate the composer’s ‘raison d’être’ behind his concertante works. They were most of all written for virtuosi like his friend, Heinrich Bärmann (Clarinet concerti), and, of course, the famous piano-master, von Weber himself. The ingenuity of orchestral accompaniment should, therefore, not be seen as a prime objective. It’s above all a frame of reference for the soloist to excel.
Difficult to say to what extent this orchestral ‘weakness’ has played a role in the two piano concerti disappearing from public interest. Or was it, as the liner notes suggest because von Weber stopped playing them. Whatever the case, recordings are indeed rare and in Super Audio non-existent. Many of us will, therefore, be pleased to learn that they are now available in a version that should arouse anyone’s curiosity.
For this recording, it seemed only logical that BIS turned once again to the winning team of Ronald Brautigam at the pianoforte and Michael Alexander Willens on the rostrum of his Köllner Akademie. Both concerti are coupled with what was once meant to be a third one though finally published as Konzertstück. All three are played on period instruments adding the right kind of historical flavour whilst creating the perfect backdrop for Brautigam to shine on his McNulty copy of an 1819 Conrad Graf. Noting that C. M. von Weber, too, played on a fortepiano, these new readings are, therefore, altogether authentic.
Despite his appealing orchestration of the slow movements of both piano concerti, not all is rosy. The pronounced taste for orchestral colour in the outer movements ask for a particularly skilled conductor to maintain a well-balanced soundscape between soloist and orchestra. It is the merit of Brautigam’s craftsmanship as well as Willens’ professionalism, both graced with luminous musical insight, that the orchestral fabric stays intact.
The more popular Konzertstück - of which only two remastered versions are available in the high-resolution domain, one of which in mono (?!) - concludes this survey of von Weber’s piano concertantes with an enviably rich interpretation. The different moods in the five programme elements come superbly to live in this ‘opera without words’ (Dixit Jean-Pascal Vachon in his excellent and well-researched liner notes).
In the final analysis, one can, in all honesty, not pretend that von Weber’s two piano concerti match any of, say, Ludwig van Beethoven’s, but if you like them, or want to get to know them better, then it would be difficult to find more exciting accounts than these. Brautigam drawing lots of virtuosity from the pianoforte, and what seems to be an inimitable asset of Willens’ is that no matter how many freelance musicians occasionally join his orchestra, he always manages to mould the overall complement into a fully integrated team.
Soundwise (24/96) I have some reservations. We are by now so used to the high BIS (Take5) standard that a light brilliance, noticeable in the upper register, gives rise to astonishment. The recording location is the same as for the so well recorded Mozart series (Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne, Germany). After repeated listening, it would appear that much of it must be attributed to parts in von Weber’s over brilliant scoring.
Your shelves will be grateful for BIS having chosen to wrap the whole thing up in a space-saving Ecopak.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
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