Mozart Piano Concertos Nos. 19 & 23
Ronald Brautigam is certainly no slouch when it comes to tempos. It’s true that when Mozart entered the F major Concerto K459 into his running catalogue of works, he cited its opening movement as an ‘Allegro vivace’, but the actual heading in his manuscript score was a plain two-to-the-bar Allegro, and perhaps the music’s pervasive martial rhythm needs a shade more poise than Brautigam and the conductor of the Cologne Academy, Michael Alexander Willens, convey. (Curiously enough, Mozart’s catalogue entry also misremembered the concerto’s instrumentation, listing trumpets and drums which it doesn’t actually include.) Again, although the middle movement is an Allegretto and not a genuine slow movement, its piquant modulations and its glowing woodwind canons seem to need more breathing-space than Brautigam and Willens allow them if they’re to make their full expressive effect. But Brautigam’s playing in this sadly undervalued concerto is faultless throughout, and the finale – a real contrapuntal tour de force -– is dazzling.
More of an unqualified success are the outer movements of the famous A major Concerto K488, where the opening Allegro has all the lyrical warmth it needs, and the final rondo is once again glitteringly performed. However, at Brautigam’s flowing tempo, the slow movement – the only true Adagio in Mozart’s Piano Concertos, and his lone full-scale venture into the melancholy key of F sharp minor – doesn’t quite tug at the heart-strings as it should. In short, these are fine performances, but without always plumbing the music’s depths.