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Mozart: Piano Concertos, Vol 04 - Brautigam / Willens

Mozart: Piano Concertos, Vol 04 - Brautigam / Willens

BIS  BIS-1964 SACD

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental


MOZART, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756–91):
Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K 459 (Bärenreiter)
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K 488 (Bärenreiter)
Cadenzas: W. A. Mozart

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

Instrumentarium: Fortepiano by Paul McNulty 1992, after an instrument by Anton Walter c. 1795


In just two years, between 1784 and 1786, Mozart composed no less than twelve piano concertos – a staggering number. Often described as one of the most light-hearted and buoyant among these is the Concerto in F major K459, sometimes called ‘the second Coronation Concerto’. The nickname comes from the fact that Mozart would later choose to perform it, along with the ‘Coronation Concerto’ in D major, during the festivities surrounding the coronation of Emperor Leopold II in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1790.

Its companion work on this fourth disc in Ronald Brautigam’s survey hails from the same period: begun in 1784, the Concerto in A major K488 was completed in March 1786, at the same time as Mozart was putting the finishing touches to his opera Le nozze di Figaro. It is one of only three piano concertos in which Mozart uses clarinets in the orchestra, resulting in a very particular sound world, especially in the magical slow movement. Mozart clearly held the work in high regard, and described it as one of his most select compositions ‘which I keep just for myself and an élite circle of music lovers’, and later audiences have agreed with him.

Ronald Brautigam has been described as ‘an absolutely instinctive Mozartian… with melodic playing of consummate beauty’ (International Record Review), and he is once again supported by the period orchestra Die Kölner Akademie conducted by Michael Alexander Willens in a partnership which more than one reviewer has termed ‘ideal’.

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Review by John Miller - March 20, 2013

What a versatile pianist Ronald Brautigam is! I have recently been enjoying his RBCD set of Rachmaninov Preludes, played on a modern Steinway, and here he serves up the next episode in his on-going set of Mozart Piano Concertos on a Viennese Walther Fortepiano of c. 1795 (Paul McNulty replica). Die Kölner Akademie as usual provide sterling orchestral support on period instruments, under the direction of Michael Alexander Willens.

On the menu are two highly popular concertos, which sit very well together. K. 459 was entered in Mozart's own catalogue on Dec 11, 1784 and was perhaps written for an Advent concert. It is sometimes known as the "First Coronation Concerto", because Mozart showed his personal high regard for the concerto by performing it in 1790 at a concert for the Coronation of Leopold II.

The first movement is marked Allegro, but in Mozart's catalogue he marked it as Allegro vivace, and such a swifter tempo is adopted by Brautigam. This movement is packed with a brilliant profusion of ideas, which are held together with subtle continuity and Mozart's flair for contrast. Piano and orchestra hold strongly argued debates between the martial tune heard at the start and more galant sets of triplets, which abound through the movement. Mozart's bold orchestration of the wind instruments is clearly relished by the Akademie players, who do outstanding (and amusingly pert) work in this concerto.

The slow movement is unusually designated as an Allegretto. Willams and Brautigam provide a rhythmically swaying idyll which is languidly atmospheric, tinged here and there by touches of pathos.

There is no pathos in the Finale, which was written at the same time as Mozart was writing his set of String Quartets dedicated to Haydn. In the middle of the piece, Mozart quotes from Haydn's Symphony 78 in C minor as a token of respect to his friend and sometime mentor. The movement is given a dazzlingly happy performance, with the opening buffo contradanse theme vying with the more learned and pompously expressed fugato which keeps infiltrating the action.

The Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major K. 488 needs little introduction. Since its first publication in 1800 it has been a highly popular creation. Its key of A is resonant and brilliant for strings (one can immediately hear the difference between the Akadmie strings in the two concertos); the melodies are memorable and of high quality, and the presence of two clarinets in place of the flute provides a warmer, richer orchestral accompaniment. Undoubtedly it is a masterpiece, and was included by Mozart in a package of four other concertos (K. 451, 453, 456 & 459), presented to the Prince von Fürstenburg with instructions not to let anyone else see them. Mozart said of this group that they were "compositions which I keep for myself and for a small circle of music-lovers and conoisseurs (who promise not to let them out of their hands)".

In the hands of Willems and Brautigam, this masterpiece is given a first class performance, particularly in its buoyant Finale, a sonata-rondo in which the piano and orchestra really are cavorting joyfully together.

The two concertos on this disc's menu may well offer the best performances of the series so far, yielding first class solo and orchestral playing as well as the best recording of any period Mozart concerto series at this time.

Copyright © 2013 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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