Mozart: Piano Concertos 15 & 16
Ronald Brautigam; Kölner Akademie/ Michael Alexander Willens
The cover photo is an indication of how far Ronald Brautigam is through his cycle of Mozart piano concertos for BIS. The series “From Forest to Concert Hall – build your own fortepiano” has reached Step 8 “Polish the instrument with shellac”, so he’s nearing completion of the cycle. The discs haven’t followed a chronological order (it’s the early concertos which are left to record) and this new release includes No.15 in B flat major and No.16 in D major. “I regard them both as concertos which are bound to make the player sweat,” joked Mozart in a letter to his father in May 1784.
Winds take the leading role in the opening tutti to No.15 and remain in dialogue with strings or piano throughout much of the first movement. Conductor Michael Alexander Willens sets tempi which are never too fast, allowing the winds to articulate clearly. The almost Beethovenian writing in the Andante – both solo and for winds – is beautifully realised by Brautigam and the Kölner Akademie woodwinds, reaching great emotional intensity, whilst maintaining clarity. Mozart adds a flute to the mix in the high-spirited finale, which is a delight from start to finish.
The D major concerto, which opens the disc, may be less technically demanding than its B flat major partner, but the pianist has to cope with pages of Mozart at his most garrulous, especially in the Rondo finale. The opening tutti displays the period instrument Kölner Akademie’s excellent credentials – a small contingent of strings, allowing woodwind details to shine through, and exuberant brass playing from horns and trumpets, giving an almost military air to proceedings, underpinned by forceful timpani.
Those allergic to historically-informed will yearn for a plusher string sound and a modern Steinway, but the clarity Brautigam’s fortepiano brings is a marvel; here, the piano is an equal partner with the orchestra, without dominating the sound picture. His passagework is always clean and, with the Kölner Akademie’s lively playing, the concerto whisks by in a flash.
Coupled with these two concertos comes the Rondo in D major, K382, composed in 1782 as a replacement finale for the D major concerto K175 (No.5). Brautigam has a great deal of fun in the variations on the jaunty theme (led by the flute), bringing the disc to a delightful (if all too soon) conclusion in an effortless display of virtuosity.
BIS-2064 (54 minutes): released in the UK on 5th May 2015