The D minor Concerto is one of just two Mozart concertos in a minor key. The other, K491 in C minor, was composed in 1786, the following year. In each of these pieces the tone is dark and foreboding, with an expressive range which is exceptionally wide. One reason for this is the treatment of the orchestra. In every sense it operates as the partner of the soloist, its role decidedly not that of mere accompaniment, since the instruments are used with the utmost imagination. Trumpets and drums, for instance, generally reserved for the festive aspects of eighteenth century music, are deployed quietly and with mystery, as well as to add brilliance.
From the beginning Michael Alexander Willens and the Kölner Akademie emphasise tragedy, suggesting the mood of aspects of Don Giovanni. Rhythmically the music feels particularly strong, and this contrasts with the somewhat lighter tone of Ronald Brautigam’s first entry. It is more than the character of the fortepiano’s sound, it is as if there is an effort to extend the expressive range in a new direction. As the movement proceeds the articulation of detail in the piano part is particularly impressive, and the relationship between solo and ensemble ever more subtle. The phrasing is sometimes enhanced by appropriately judged decoration, while the cadenza - Brautigam’s own - feels just right. If a caveat needs be made, it comes from the experience of hearing this movement performed on ‘modern’ instruments, since there is more richness of texture and warmth to be found in this music than is experienced here.
This last point can be extended also to the beautiful central Romanze, the only such title to be found in a Mozart concerto, and surely inviting a certain lyricism. In the finale Brautigam and the orchestra choose a swift tempo, with virtuosity preferred to the spirit of opera buffa.
The Concerto in B flat was Mozart’s last piano concerto, composed in the prolific year that proved to be his last. Brautigam’s interpretation is more relaxed here and rightly so. The exchanges between piano and orchestra are seldom dramatic, the treatment of the material stemming from the conversational approach of the composer’s beloved opera buffa, even recalling the intimacy of chamber music. The cadenza, Mozart's own, is ideally proportioned and draws upon the movement's material with the utmost imagination.
The central movement opens with a deceptively simple theme, which becomes the reference point for many developments. Perhaps the beauty of this theme gains from the subtler tones of a more modern piano, since the mood is serene, the lines elegant. When the principal theme returns for the last time, the violins double the piano part an octave below. This effect is well realised here thanks to the excellent BIS recording.
The principal theme of the rondo finale is so similar to Mozart's charming song 'Komm, lieber Mai', K596, that the resemblance cannot be coincidental. In this movement that is at once melodically graceful and rhythmically vital, Brautigam judges tempo and phrasing to perfection. Here Mozart brings to a close his last piano concerto, and with it the greatest series of concertos the world has known.
Previous review: Brian Wilson
Masterwork Index: Mozart piano concerto 20 ~~ Concerto 27