Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Konzertstück
Ronald Brautigam (piano); Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
BIS BIS-2384 (CD/SACD) 56:18 mins
Weber’s single-movement Konzertstück is a piece that’s been championed by one or two outstanding pianists in the past – Claudio Arrau and Alfred Brendel, in particular – but it’s hardly familiar fare these days. Its simplistic extra-musical plot line, involving a lady pining for her knight who has departed for the Crusades, can’t be taken seriously, but the music certainly can. It’s the prototype of the Romantic concerto as practised by Liszt (who played the piece frequently) and others, and like Weber’s two full-blown piano concertos it was tailor-made for his own formidable keyboard prowess, not to mention his exceptionally large hands. Glissandos in octaves weren’t such a hurdle on instruments of his day, such as the one modelled on a Conrad Graf piano of 1819 which Ronald Brautigam plays on this new recording, but the wide compass of some of the left-hand chords was beyond even Liszt’s capabilities.
The First Concerto doesn’t reveal a great deal of Weber’s personality, but No. 2 is notable for its slow movement – a mysterious and sensuous piece featuring muted solo strings, and with an episode throwing the spotlight on a solo cello. For this alone, the work would be worth reviving, despite the disappointingly perfunctory latter half of its opening movement. Both concertos have a presto finale which calls for dazzling virtuosity – something which Brautigam has in spades: his fearless pyrotechnics are truly astounding.
He’s stylishly supported by the Kölner Akademie and Michael Alexander Willens, even if the small body of strings sounds a bit undernourished at times.
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