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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No.5 in D, K175 (1773) [19:21]
Piano Concerto No.6 in B flat, K238 (1776) [18:43]
Three Concertos after J. C. Bach, K107 (1772): I in D [12:27]; II in G [9:19]; III in E flat [8:01]
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
Die Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens (K175/238)
Peter Hanson & Marie-Luise Hartmann (violins), Albert Brüggen (cello) (K107)
cadenzas: Mozart (K175 first & second movements; K238 first & third movements; K107/I), Brautigam (K175 third movement; K107/II, III)
Rec. Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne, Germany. December 2014
DDD/DSD
BIS BIS-2084 SACD [69:30]

This is the tenth and penultimate single CD release of Ronald Brautigam’s cycle of Mozart piano concertos on period instruments. It begins with Concerto No. 5 which is Mozart’s first ‘original’ piano concerto, numbers 1-4 being ‘pasticcio’ arrangements, on which more later. It’s a lavishly scored firecracker of a work with 2 oboes, 2 horns, 2 trumpets and drums as well as strings, which Michael Alexander Willens allows to blaze uninhibitedly. To be audible the piano operates mainly with strings alone but is significant to the musical argument in that it expands the orchestral material, especially the largely decorative second theme (tr. 1, 0:33). You enjoy the verve of the performance, momentum is everything, but also the detail of the relationship between orchestra and piano, such as the oboes’ sighs beneath the piano at 1:31 and first violins descending in quavers. I compared the 1985 recording by Malcolm Bilson with the English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner (Archiv 463 111-2). Bilson’s playing is as accomplished as Brautigam’s, his cadenza a little more neatly pointed. His piano, a copy of Anton Walter’s 1780s instrument made for Mozart, isn’t quite as bright as Brautigam’s copy of a later Walter piano of about 1792.

Mozart marks the second movement Andante ma un poco adagio and the qualification is important. Timing at 8:04 Gardiner observes it which allows Bilson to bring to the piano’s cantilena a sense of reverie, of subdued reflection. Timing at 6:48 Willens takes little heed of it, which gives the whole a sense of warm but rather determined progression. The suddenly heartfelt passage from tr. 2, 3:03 when the piano’s arioso expands and is echoed by the first oboe is too matter-of-fact here. Brautigam is, however, more reflective in the cadenza which he plays exquisitely. The finale from Brautigam/Willens is a breathtaking display of polyphony, which at 4:36 is in danger of overwhelming you and arguably more Allegro molto than the marked Allegro. But it’s stimulating stuff, as the opening essentially 4-note theme exchanged between oboes and violins on the one hand and horns and trumpets on the other in canon, only leaves the piano scope for a running quavers’ accompaniment. Where the piano can get more involved is in the shadowy delicacy of the second theme (tr. 3, 0:13), the merriment of the third theme (0:20) later expanded and, most of all, a catchy fourth theme (1:53), a 4-note leaping and descending phrase punctuated by woodwind which Brautigam fittingly uses as the basis for his cadenza. Bilson/Gardiner, taking 4:58, give the finale a touch more breathing space which brings to the second and fourth theme more sparkle on more pointed and humorous articulation. Bilson’s cadenza is rather tinselly decorative at first before it homes in on the third theme.

The joy of Concerto 6 lies in its contrast from Concerto 5. Where that is all stimulation, Concerto 6 seeks to delight by quiet means. It might seem retiring and introspective, like the second theme in its first movement (tr. 4, 0:32), but the first theme began assertively and then withdrew and the third (0:39) picks up momentum only to withdraw and then become assertive again. So this is all a game, with the piano bubbling along, elaborating the thematic material but also with a much more interactive relationship with the orchestra. They can really be heard to bounce off each other in this Brautigam/Willens performance. The Bilson/Gardiner performance recorded in 1987 doesn’t have the laid back quality of that by Brautigam/Willens. For instance, their meticulous treatment of the second theme lacks Brautigam/Willens’ grace and the interchange between piano and orchestra seems more self-conscious and forced, though dynamic contrasts are more crisply articulated.

There’s also an intriguing ambivalence about the slow movement which has to wind itself up into an airy melody. The second theme (tr. 5, 0:57) begins as a rather pained meditation, but the piano works its way round to the joy of glistening, pattering descents. It’s another Andante un poco adagio and Gardiner at 5:54 is again more measured than Willens at 5:11. But here I prefer Brautigam/Willens’ more flowing treatment because it smoothes over this movement’s elements of reticence whereas Bilson/Gardiner dwell on them. The finale is a knockabout rondo which nevertheless bows out in a quiet but gleaming sheen, courtesy of the oboes, for which and the horns there’s marvellously effective scoring and, from Willens, fine playing throughout. The first episode (tr. 6, 0:38) is jolly, the second (1:20) carefree, but the third (2:39) severe and stormy. Bilson/Gardiner are again a little slower in this movement, rendering its effects more calculated. While Bilson’s playing is more mercurial than Brautigam’s, he’s also more retiring, less engaged with the orchestra.

The K107 concertos are ‘pasticcio’ arrangements. Mozart took J. C. Bach’s piano sonatas op. 5 nos. 2-4 and turned them into concertos by adding instrumental passages and accompaniments. The first begins with three crashing chords and in Brautigam and his three partners’ performance teems with life and clarity, not least with the violins’ shimmering tremolando. A courtly second theme (tr. 7, 0:30) offers a brief respite from the prevailing energy. I compared the recording published in 1993-4 by Malcolm Bilson with the American Classical Orchestra/Thomas Crawford (Nimbus NI 2579/80). This uses a small chamber orchestra. For me the work sounds more convincingly a concerto with such forces and this applies to all the concertos. The distinction between tutti and solo piano passages is more telling and vivid. There’s a brighter, swashbuckling character in the violins from the start. The growing interplay between strings and piano as the movement develops is more apparent and enjoyable from Bilson/Crawford. Brautigam and co. play more stylishly but Bilson/Crawford offer a well pointed, firmly structured account. Brautigam’s fortepiano, after a Johann Andreas Stein model of 1788, has a clearer, brighter tone than Bilson’s, after a Johann Schanz model from the 1780s. The second movement has a pastoral graciousness and the instrumental introduction allows the piano to reply with a highly decorated version of the theme. Brautigam packs in the growing ornamentation with delight. The third movement is a lively D major Minuet with a rather closeted Trio in D minor for contrast.

The second K107 concerto’s first movement is in the galant manner and Brautigam supplies a cadenza elegantly turned on its main theme. Its other movement is a theme with 5 variations, in the first of which the theme is presented in quavers with ample space between, only to be crammed with increasing floridity as the variations develop. Brautigam presents the theme on piano first and it returns after variation 5 tutti. Bilson/Crawford begin with the ensemble and end with solo piano which I prefer. The Bärenreiter urtext has the theme presented tutti only at the beginning. The third K107 concerto has a more meaty argument with 3 themes in its ensemble opening and a pronounced, sturdy development section. Its other movement is a laid back 18th century style theme but again with a marked, more probing development section.

Michael Greenhalgh

 

 




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