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Mozart: Piano Concertos No 20 & 27 / Brautigam, Willens, Die Kolner Akademie

Mozart / Brautigam / Die Kolner Akademie
Release Date: 10/29/2013 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 2014   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Ronald Brautigam
Conductor:  Michael Alexander Willens
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne Academy
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 0 Hours 54 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MOZART Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 27 Ronald Brautigam (fp); Michael Alexander Willens, cond; Cologne Academy (period instruments) BIS 2014 (SACD: 53: 34)

This was my first exposure to Brautigam’s Mozart piano concerto series, of which this is the fifth release. The series has been received well, including in Fanfare , and on the basis of the present release I think it stands up well to comparable releases by Bilson (DG Archiv), Levin (L’Oiseau-Lyre and Read more Decca), and, its strongest competition, Immerseel (Channel Classics). Brautigam is most similar to the latter, in terms of the expressiveness of his readings and his sound-world.

But first, a word about instrumentation. Brautigam plays a very recent (2011) copy by Paul McNulty of a Walter & Sohn fortepiano dating from circa 1802. In his interesting Fanfare interview, published in 2011 in Vol. 35:5, Brautigam, speaking with Christopher Brodersen, expresses his preference for playing newly-minted fortepianos which, to him, have a “freshness” which is preferable to that of restored instruments now two centuries old; Brautigam speaks of “tiredness” and “falseness” related to their sound. I’m sure there are those who will disagree. Even so, I was taken with the sound of Brautigam’s McNulty fortepiano, which really does sparkle here. The sound of the period instrument orchestra possesses all the same virtues as that of the fortepiano: old-style timbres, but “fresh” and absolutely un-creaky. It’s a small ensemble: Twenty-four players are listed, and the strings are 4:4:2:2:2. The balance between the fortepiano and the orchestra is well nigh ideal.

As for the performances, they certainly emphasize the contrasts both between and within the two concertos. In No. 20, Brautigam and Willens bring a virtually explosive sense of distress to the opening movement, more than any of the performers listed above, including Immerseel. The central Romanze is taken at a good clip (7:17, vs. 9:00 for Immerseel) which makes the movement’s central section sound a little perfunctory, at least to my ears. After a dramatic start to the Allegro assai (more dramatic for Immerseel than for Brautigam and Willens), comic victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat, and here, Immerseel is wittier. Also, overall, Immerseel’s fortepiano has a woodier sound than Brautigam’s, whose timbre is more metallic. Do I like both readings? Yes I do, but I suspect Immerseel’s wears better. In No. 27, however, Brautigam and Willens could not be more genial, and I think here they have an advantage over Immerseel. They sparkle more, particularly in the last movement. However, I do like the slinkiness of the strings in Immerseel’s recording; the Cologne Academy takes a plainer and less seductive approach.

This is lovely stuff, and I will be on the lookout for further releases in this series. There’s not a weekday evening that cannot be improved by a Mozart piano concerto, and this new disc will soften the blow after even the most manic Monday.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 27 in B flat major, K 595 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Ronald Brautigam (Fortepiano)
Conductor:  Michael Alexander Willens
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne Academy
Period: Classical 
Written: 1791; Vienna, Austria 
Concerto for Piano no 20 in D minor, K 466 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Ronald Brautigam (Fortepiano)
Conductor:  Michael Alexander Willens
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne Academy
Period: Classical 
Written: 1785; Vienna, Austria 

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