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Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos 1-5 (Brautigam)

Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano); Die Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens (BIS)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Piano Concertos Nos 1-5
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano); Die Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
BIS BIS-2274 (hybrid CD/SACD)   157:13 mins (2 discs)

These are highly individual performances of extremely familiar works, and even if the actual sounds made by these copies of instruments contemporaneous with their composition don’t always sound agreeable, they are fresh and life-giving. Speeds are mainly traditional, though the fortepianos on which Brautigam plays lack sustaining power, so the slow movements tend to be on the brisk side, but not disconcertingly. In the orchestra the winds, especially the woodwinds, sound prominent and sometimes like assiduous woodpeckers, while the brass is positively uproarious, with the strings recessive and easily drowned. Nonetheless, the overall impression is of energy and sometimes fun, and the Fourth Concerto, which I expected to fare worst from this treatment, offers a combative account of the relationship between soloist and orchestra, rather than the usual collaborative one.

The Fifth is adequately imperial, though Brautigam – or his instrument – doesn’t have the power to make the huge climax of the first movement as thrilling as it can be. All told, the early concertos sound best, as if for once Haydn had written a decent keyboard concerto. These discs make clear how much Beethoven had the sonorities of the instruments he was writing for in mind, even if one can’t help thinking that if he had heard a modern piano he would have forgotten about the ones available to him, at any rate for such miracles of beauty as the slow movements of the Third and Fifth Concertos.

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Michael Tanner