Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 16 in D major K451 [21:28]
Piano Concerto No. 15 in B flat major K450 [22:31]
Rondo in D major for piano and orchestra K382 [8:47]
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
Die Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
rec. Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne, Germany, December 2013
Original format 24bit/96kHz. Co-production with Deutschlandfunk
Hybrid SACD/CD stereo/multi-channel 5.0 reviewed in surround
BIS SACD BIS-2064 [53:43]

This is volume 8 of Brautigam's cycle of the Mozart piano concertos recorded on copies of period fortepianos. Here it's one by Paul McNulty (2011), after a Walter & Sohn (c.1805). That makes sixteen concertos done and presumably nine more to go. Much like his refreshing series of Beethoven piano sonatas, also on BIS, these performances are like hearing music cleaned of over two hundred years of varnish, if I can mix my similes. It is not only the use of smaller and quieter fortepianos that provide this clarity, it is also the small orchestra of just fourteen strings plus wind and timpani. Add to this the clarity of BIS hi-def recordings. Modern performances really have to enlarge the orchestra otherwise they, particularly the wind, would be lost behind the resonance and scale of a twenty-first century concert grand. Here the musicians are all heard, especially the flute, oboes and bassoons who make such an important contribution to the whole. This is not to suggest that the keyboard used here is small, at over two metres long and weighing in at almost 100kg it is a substantial instrument, but only a fifth the weight of a Steinway Model D.

I was surprised to discover that this is my first recording of No.16 in D major. It has an arresting opening which leapt from the speakers and demanded attention. The glorious flute playing of Frank Theuns is much more obvious than it would have been were the orchestra more traditionally proportioned. Throughout this concerto Mozart gives the flute and the other woodwind prominence, sometimes leaving the piano to merely decorate their lines. No.15 was more familiar territory but again Brautigam brings freshness to a concerto too easily treated as more 'serious' than it needs to be. Listening to Solomon's 1953 recording, I was reminded that in the nineteen-fifties Mozart was an enshrined musical god whose works demanded respectful restraint. Solomon's performance, especially of the slow movement, is undeniably beautiful and no collection should be without this, but it comes from some Elysian field, not from a flesh and blood composer living in the late 18th century. For me Brautigam gets closer to the real thing. The Rondo in D major is a delightful addition bulking out this rather short disc to an acceptable 53 minutes.

John Irving's excellent notes discuss each work in detail. Brautigam's fortepiano is placed fairly close and one can hear that the treble notes come from further left than the bass showing it has been placed sideways on to the listener. The orchestra stretches right across the sound-stage and not a note is less than clear. The timpani have a nice impact, no muted thumping here.

Everyone should hear this lovely issue.

Dave Billinge

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