ALBUM TITLE: Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 18 & 22
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 18 & 22
PERFORMER: Ronald Brautigam (piano); Cologne Academy/Michael Alexander Willens
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2044 (hybrid CD/SACD)
As in the rest of their Mozart series with the Cologne Academy, Ronald Brautigam and Michael Alexander Willens use small orchestral forces, with no more than a pair each of violas, cellos and basses. This may well have been the ensemble Mozart had in mind, though paradoxically enough it’s in the transparently-scored Concerto No. 18, K456 that the strings sound undernourished, while in No. 22, K482, with its richer sonorities (this was Mozart’s first concerto to include clarinets, and it also has trumpets and drums), the overall balance is more satisfactory. The finale of the earlier work contains a spectacular episode in a remote key, where two conflicting metres unfold simultaneously, and perhaps the cross-rhythm isn’t quite audible enough here. The variation slow movement, in Mozart’s tragic G minor vein, is quite beautifully done. In the final variation, with its elaborate keyboard part, Brautigam and Willens invoke an imaginative pianissimo that enhances the music’s air of resignation.
While Brautigam and Willens have sometimes tended to favour tempos distinctly on the fast side, that isn’t the case here: these are finely-judged performances throughout, in which every detail counts. Brautigam contributes an impressive cadenza to K482, and he introduces an appropriate amount of decoration to the expressive minuet-like episode of its finale. I remain to be convinced about the advisability of having the soloist play along, however discreetly, during the tuttis, as Brautigam does. Mozart may have done the same himself, but whether he expected anyone other than his fellow-musicians to hear him is another matter.