Piano Concertos, Vol. 2: Opp. 32 & 55
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano); Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
BIS BIS-2524 (CD/SACD) 59:42 mins
A longer-lived contemporary of Beethoven (whose ‘Emperor’ Concerto hovers over the scale and ambition of the Concerto Op. 55, similarly cast in the key of E flat), Johann Wilhelm Wilms is a composer as happy to travel as to arrive. Completing Ronald Brautigam’s survey of the five surviving piano concertos, both works recorded here are happy to postpone journey’s end for the sake of several detours and elongations that, particularly in the outer movements, can leave the listener suspecting that less might be more. It’s not that Wilms isn’t accomplished – the finale of Op. 55 has Beethovenian turbulence and heroic grandeur – it’s more that he can become over-intoxicated by his own facility.
Still, Wilms is handsomely served by his latter-day champions. The Cologne-based period instrument ensemble responds to Michael Alexander Willens’s insightful direction with affectionate warmth and incisive attentiveness. Roland Brautigam, meanwhile, deploys his customary fleet-fingered sorcery and energising élan, ensuring that, even at his most pedestrian, Wilms’s generously proportioned ideas take wing. Brautigam’s fine instrument is a personable modern copy of a Graf fortepiano dating from 1819 – almost exactly contemporaneous with the E flat Concerto – whose different registers lend a distinctiveness to Brautigam’s pungent characterisation.