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Mozart: Piano Concertos, Vol 03 - Brautigam / Willens

Mozart: Piano Concertos, Vol 03 - Brautigam / Willens

BIS  BIS-SACD-1944

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major K. 453, Piano Concerto No. 26 in D major K. 537

Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
Die Kölner Akademie
Michael Alexander Willens (conductor)


Described in International Record Review as 'an absolutely instinctive Mozartian, with fleet fingerwork to match any, and with melodic playing of consummate beauty', Ronald Brautigam returns with the third instalment in his series of Mozart’s piano concertos. As on the two previous discs, he is joined by the period band Die Kölner Akademie conducted by Michael Alexander Willens, forming a partnership described on website klassik-heute.de as ‘Mozart interpreters of the first order’.

The present disc includes Piano Concerto No.26 in D major, K 537, nicknamed the ‘Coronation Concerto’ on the basis of the slightly misleading information given on the title page of the first edition of the work, stating that the work was ‘performed by the composer at Frankfurt-am-Main on the occasion of the Coronation of Emperor Leopold II’, in October 1790. Mozart did in fact perform the work in Frankfurt, but the concert took place a week after the actual coronation, and was not part of the official festivities. Nor was it written for the occasion – Mozart had in fact premièred it the previous year, in Vienna.

Popular for its beauty and rococo style, it is here preceded by Piano Concerto No.17 in G major, K 453, one of the rare concertos that Mozart composed with another soloist than himself in mind. Written for and premièred by his student Barbara Ployer, it is also unusual in that Mozart cast its last movement as a set of variations, with a bourrée-like theme developed at a helter-skelter pace, similar to an operatic scene unfolding on stage.

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Review by John Miller - December 24, 2012

This release's front cover of the third instalment in Brautigam's piano concerto series shows a precision measuring instrument being held over the wooden frame of a C18th piano. The photo represents the third stage in the BIS education process, "From Forest to Concert Hall: build your own fortepiano". The advice is "find an original instrument - by a master builder - and measure it in detail". I wonder if anyone will complete the course?

Getting down to the music, I advise reading John Irving's copious notes in the booklet first, as it is a mine of information, illuminating the context of the concertos and giving some details of how Mozart produced his autograph scores. Not many Mozart lovers are aware that the right hand piano part is often sketchy and almost impossible to decode, as Mozart himself would simply use it as a rough note to be realised properly at the performance. Similarly, many of the concertos lack a left hand part, which again would be improvised by Mozart on the spot. Note that the left hand stave is blank for all of the Larghetto of K 537.

Most of the complete and tidy autograph scores were prepared for Mozart's pupils to use at lessons. The choice of editions is thus important for Mozart's piano concertos. Brautigam and Willens use the Bärenreiter edition, one of the most up to date in its scholarship and forensics. A further complication is that Mozart only supplies a few cadenzas for his piano concertos, again for the use of pupils. Beethoven wrote cadenzas for some Mozart concertos, and many modern pianists have published books of their own cadenzas. However, Brautigam uses his own cadenzas for K 537 (which are most apt and very much echo the character of the movements). For K 453 he uses Mozart's cadenzas.

The performances on this disc are exemplary, with orchestra and soloist seemingly immersed in playing for pure pleasure. K 453 in G Major is one of Mozart's dialogue concertos, where rhetorical exchange takes place between soloist and orchestra or between strings and woodwind. The conversations here are especially good humoured, with buoyant rhythms and a sunny sense of playful joy in the outer movements. Brautigan's and Willens' dialogues breathe the very air of Viennese Enlightenment.

The Andante moves into a minor key, engendering much soulful pathos from the soloist. Oddly, the somewhat fragile sound of treble melody notes of the Walter replica piano of a model from c. 1795 add to the movement's gently nostalgic mood. K 453's final Allegretto is a set of variations on a song taught to Mozart's pet starling, a charming aside, and takes wing with foot-tapping rhythms. Towards the end, Mozart sneaks in a Presto section, which amounts to an disguised Finale movement. This is played with mischievous élan by the orchestra, gaily throwing up loud military fanfares and nearby hunting horn impressions, to startle and impress. An eighteenth century version of "shock and awe", perhaps.

K 537 in D has the apocryphal name of "Coronation". It was completed in 1788 and Mozart took it to the Dresden Court at Frankfurt in 1789 for a performance during the coronation of Emperor Leopold II, although his concert was not (to his chagrin) part of the official events. Judging from the state of the Autograph score, it is probable that the trumpets, horns and drums were added late, possible just before the performance. The concerto certainly demonstrates pomp and circumstance in its fanfares and martial sections of the outer movements, and is undoubtedly one of Mozart's set of solo display concertos, compared to the prevailing dialogue-rich genre of K 453. It has a dazzling array of flashy passage work, particularly torrents of scales, which Brautigam takes in his stride with spectacular articulation and rippling fluency. The middle movement, a Larghetto, is unusually in 2/2 time, which Willens and Brautigam take at face value. It might, therefore, seem to proceed faster in some other recordings, but in this case seems aptly to suggest a courtly dance. The final Allegretto, in 2/4 time, does its best not to be a march, glowing with barely repressed fun.

This pair of concertos came across as pure, happy entertainment to my ears, and performances are certainly as good as, or better than, renditions of period instrument versions such as Immerseele/Anima Eterna (RBCD) and Levin/Hogwood (RBCD), although the latter has Levin providing a good deal of spontaneous ornamentation. Some listeners may prefer this, so should note that Brautigam does not habitually add ornaments. Levin can also be heard playing continuo-like in the orchestral tuttis. This was a common practice of the time and one which Mozart himself probably indulged, as it helped the soloist to "conduct" the orchestra, and also play "in" before the solo part. I can't reliably hear Brautigam playing in tuttis, despite the excellent BIS recording (96/24 PCM).

A very welcome addition to the Brautigam cycle of piano concertos in sound, performance and presentation. Well worth acquiring, even if you aren't collecting the whole set. Of course, you will have to approve of period practise playing!

Copyright © 2012 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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