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Beethoven: Piano Concertos / Brautigam, Parrott

Release Date: 05/26/2009 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 1792   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Ronald Brautigam
Conductor:  Andrew Parrott
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.

BEETHOVEN Piano Concertos: in E?, WoO 4 (reconst. Brautigam); No. 2 in B?. Rondo in B? Ronald Brautigam (pn); Andrew Parrott (cond); Norrköping SO BIS 1792 (58:04)

Few piano recording buffs will have missed the remarkable career trajectory of Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam. Particularly since his association with the Swedish label BIS began in 1995, the Read more releases don’t seem to quit. Now in his mid-fifties, it’s natural that Brautigam should be at the peak of his powers. His recorded repertoire, if not catholic, demonstrates a healthy musical curiosity. Canonic figures are amply represented alongside those less frequently encountered: Haydn and Mozart with Joseph Martin Kraus; Mendelssohn with Gade; Shostakovich and Hindemith with Duruflé, Martin, and Hahn. But it’s not Brautigam’s enviable technical polish that sets him apart from many of his colleagues, nor his lofty musical grasp. It is his individuality. He has a searching musical intelligence, a disarming self-effacement before the score, and an astonishing conscientiousness that, in combination, make him sound like no one else. Witness, for instance, his complete Haydn set, some 15 discs (BIS 1731) representing essentially all the master’s solo keyboard works currently known, recorded over five years, beginning in 1998. Here the same care and imagination are lavished on the earliest experimental sonatas from the lean, free-lance years that are accorded the mature works representing the summit of Haydn’s achievement. Finally, Brautigam has the uncanny ability to turn in consummate performances, equally compelling in stylistic terms, whether he plays replicas of historical instruments or the modern concert grand. In this aspect he seems an entirely new type of pianist. His on-going Beethoven project with BIS, demonstrates this parallel track aptitude with stunning artistic results: the sonatas are being recorded on period-appropriate fortepiano replicas, while the concertos are played on the modern piano, fully informed by cutting-edge performance practice.

Following the release of the First and Third Concertos (BIS 1692) last year, Brautigam and Parrot turn their attention to the earliest known works of Beethoven for piano and orchestra. Only a manuscript of the piano solo part of the E? Concerto survives, dating from around 1784. Fortunately for posterity, Beethoven incorporated the orchestral tutti into the piano part, along with some subsequent editorial changes. Thus a speculative reconstruction of the lost orchestral score is possible, based on the composer’s unusual instrumentation (calling for strings with two flutes and two horns, but no oboes or bassoons). The reconstruction recorded here is Brautigam’s own, as are the candenzas for both WoO 4 and the Rondo. (Beethoven’s 1809 cadenzas are used in the Concerto No. 2.)

Given its sparse representation in the catalogs, the E? Concerto is of special interest. Little in this charming piece suggests that it is the creation of a 13-year-old. Brautigam brings an air of naive exuberance to the difficult solo part; the delicate fiorituras of the Larghetto are breathtakingly poetic. Here, in Brautigam’s superbly reconstructed orchestral score, as indeed throughout the recording, Parrott and the Norrköping musicians are responsive partners of remarkable sensitivity. Moreover, in the Rondo of No. 2, the give-and-take between soloist and orchestra is nothing short of sublime, imbued with an exhilaration that’s utterly infectious. It follows an Adagio of ethereal tenderness. Without doubt, this is the most dynamic, shapely, and vivid recording of the Beethoven Second one is ever likely to hear. It’s worth mentioning that the Steinway D used here, with lid removed, was placed in the middle of the orchestra, continuo style, which does a lot to explain both the cohesive ensemble and the beautifully blended sound of the recording.

Comparisons? This canonic repertoire boasts more than a few canonic interpretations—Schnabel’s revelatory musicality, Rubinstein’s aristocratic poise, Serkin’s modest edginess, and the lofty humanism of Backhaus come immediately to mind. Let me put it this way, without any denigration of artists whom I respect and admire immensely: listening to two recent wonderful Beethoven cycles, those of Plentnev with Gansch and the Russian National O (DG) and Goode with Fischer and the Budapest Festival O (Nonesuch), I hear the glorious recent past, ripe, insightful, often brilliant, immensely pleasurable; listening to Ronald Brautigam, Andrew Parrott, and the Norrköping SO, I hear the future.

FANFARE: Patrick Rucker

Ronald Brautigam is an excellent Beethoven pianist, and he turns in a performance of the Second concerto's solo part that's as lively and attractive as anyone has yet recorded on a modern instrument. It's especially nice to hear the finale taken at a tempo that permits all of the main theme's rhythmic bounce to register without it ever sounding breathless or frantic. The same holds true of the Rondo in B-flat, the Second concerto's original finale. Indeed, the only caveat in these performances concerns the slow movements, where Andrew Parrott, evidently with the acquiescence of his soloist, encourages the orchestra to indulge in that dry, vibrato-less string tone that is the very opposite of stylishness (and utterly contrary to what their own sources say about sustained lyrical music in slow tempos).

The E-flat concerto is an early work in Mozartian style, here very nicely reconstructed by Brautigam from the existing piano score. Indications of scoring in the keyboard part point to an orchestra of strings, two flutes, and two horns, a very unusual combination, and I'm not convinced that two oboes ought not to have been added as a matter of course. Still, there's no denying the distinctive tone color that the absence of double reeds gives the work's overall sonority, and it would be hard to imagine a more sympathetic performance than this one (never mind Parrott and his scratchy strings). I look forward to further releases in this (so far) very rewarding edition.

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano in E flat major, WoO 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Ronald Brautigam (Piano)
Conductor:  Andrew Parrott
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1784; Bonn, Germany 
Notes: Arranger: Ronald Brautigam. 
Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in B flat major, WoO 6 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Ronald Brautigam (Piano)
Conductor:  Andrew Parrott
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1794; Vienna, Austria 
Concerto for Piano no 2 in B flat major, Op. 19 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Ronald Brautigam (Piano)
Conductor:  Andrew Parrott
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1793/1798; Vienna, Austria 

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