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Mozart: Piano Concertos, Vol 06 - Brautigam, Willens

Mozart: Piano Concertos, Vol 06 - Brautigam, Willens

BIS  BIS-2044 SACD

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


MOZART, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756–91): Piano Concerto No. 18 in B flat major, K 456 (Bärenreiter); Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat major, K 482 (Bärenreiter)
Cadenzas: W. A. Mozart (K 456); Ronald Brautigam (K 482)


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

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


The sixth disc in this highly acclaimed series combine two works in which Mozart's powers as an orchestrator come to the fore. Concerto No. 18 in B flat major, K 456, is sometimes referred to as one of the composer’s ‘military concertos’ on the basis of the march-like main theme of the first movement.

But more striking is the variety of ways that Mozart employs the various groups of instruments: strings, wind instruments and, of course, the piano. This aspect certainly didn’t pass unnoticed by a listener as initiated as Mozart’s father Leopold: in a letter to his daughter Nannerl he described how his enjoyment of the orchestral interplay had brought tears to his eyes.

The performance that Leopold was referring to was by Mozart himself at a concert in Vienna in 1785, but the work is believed to have been written for the blind virtuoso Maria Theresia von Paradis to play on a concert trip to Paris, and the demanding piano part leaves us in no doubt about her abilities as a pianist. Concerto No. 22 in E flat major, on the other hand, is one that Mozart wrote primarily for his own use, completing it on 16th December 1785, and performing it later the same month.

It is the first of only three piano concertos in which he uses clarinets, to particular effect in the expressive Andantino cantabile episode of the otherwise ebullient Finale. The orchestra is on the whole unusually large, with trumpets and timpani, and horn parts which are uncommonly independent and important to the musical argument.

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - August 6, 2014

Classics Today (Hurwitz) doesn’t like Willens. The same applies to its sister site for the French (Huss). That is their good right if … coherently substantiated. Personnel grudges seldom make for objective reviews. Language like ‘dreck alert’ (KV’s 491 and 503) is way beyond common decency and the disdainful ‘misérable rhétorique’ (Mr. Huss about this volume) is sufficient warning that we are dealing with below the belt reviews. Potential buyers seek unbiased advice. Not ‘vendetta’.

Examples of misguidance? Mr. Hurwitz seems to be the only one to venture that: ‘he (Brautigam) is not a Mozart player of any special distinction’. He furthermore questions the quality of Paul McNulty’s copy of a fortepiano by Anton Walter which he praises elsewhere. Malcolm Bilson, Melvin Tan, and Robert Levin, etc. are all using fortepianos from the McNulty stables to much acclaim.

‘Not liking’ is not the same as ‘bad’. Professional reviewers should know better. Not helpful! (button missing).

David Hurwitz may be forgiven that he has absolutely no knowledge of woodworking. There is no axe on the cover of KV’s 491 and 503; it’s a sledge hammer driving wedges into a trunk.

Where do I stand? Well, to be honest, I was not overwhelmed with the first installments because of tempi, a too closely mic’ed fortepiano and, in one particular case, a fuzzy multi-channel mix.

That said, I wonder how Mr. Huss has listened to these two wonderfully played concerti (I must assume that he has), because I disagree on almost all counts.

The strings are not anaemic. They are few, that’s right, but isn’t that why the balance with the wind instruments is so much better than with large orchestra performances. That’s also why, in Mozart’s time, the fortepiano would often participate in the tuttis. Ornaments, too, were common, and I find that, unlike other period players, Brautigam uses them in these concerti very discreetly.

We are not dealing with ‘miserable rhetoric’, but a markedly different concert practice, which you may or may not like; but one should not make the mistake to compare it with modern chamber versions. Apples are apples and pears are pears.

In this new installment the excessive clickety-click of the fortepiano, like in the earlier volumes is gone (though one cannot completely avoid mechanical noises, which are, by the way, also part of the charm of a well-copied instrument); and so is the fuzzy surround. Instead, we have now blooming MC sound and spirited performances.

Playing too fast? Rubbish. I compared it with my RBCD of Richard Goode / Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (#18). Differences are 9, 2 and 3 seconds (!) respectively. In # 22 Christian Zacharias is, indeed, slower, though not excessively: 1:07 / 0:24 / 1:15. But as I said, one should not compare different practices.

All in all, these are excellent performances that can happily live as alternatives next to the Zacharias series.

Thore Brinkmann should be complimented for a first-rate recording.

I have now ordered Volume 5 and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

Copyright © 2014 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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