Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No.20 in d minor, K466 [26:14]
Piano Concerto No.27 in B ﬂat, K595 [26:35]
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
Die Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
rec. Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, July 2012. DDD/DSD
Fortepiano by Paul McNulty 2011, after an instrument by Walter & Sohn, c.1802
BIS BIS-SACD-2014 [53:34]
This is the latest release in a series of recordings of the Mozart piano concertos which has received a good deal of stick in certain quarters, quite unjustified, relating to the impact of soloist and orchestra, and has even led to an acrimonious exchange between Michael Willens and one reviewer. On the other hand, earlier volumes have not quite risen to the top five-star ratings awarded by some reviewers.
I’m not a lover of the fortepiano per se, but I did enjoy this recording and its predecessors precisely because of the quality of the orchestra and solo instrument which received the opprobrium. This time the solo instrument is a copy of a different and rather more mellifluous Walter original from that used in the earlier recordings:
- BIS-SACD-1794: Piano Concertos 9 and 12; Rondo in A - download review
- BIS-SACD-1894: Piano Concertos 24 and 25 - review and download review
- BIS-SACD-1944: Piano Concertos 17 and 26 - download review
- BIS-SACD-1964: Piano Concertos 19 and 23 - download review
Only the terminally averse to the fortepiano and/or smallish orchestras need stay away from any of these recordings, of which my top recommendation so far was for BIS-SACD-1964, if only because it contains a performance of my favourite among all these favourites, Piano Concerto No.23, K488.
The new recording runs it at least a very close second, principally for the fine performance of Piano Concerto No.20, though that of No.27 also made me warm to that work as much as any performance that I have heard of it. On second hearing I’m inclined to rate this volume even higher than its predecessor. As before, the solo performances are sprightly and stylish with strong orchestral support. I have thought some of the earlier releases slightly lacking the last degree of involvement with the music, but that comment would apply much less in the present instance, with only my very top recommendations for No.20 rivalling or excelling Brautigam and his team:
- Stephen Kovacevich with the LSO and Colin Davis - currently unavailable; snap up a copy of the Philips coupling with No.23 if you can
- Clifford Curzon with the ECO/Benjamin Britten or LSO/István Kertesz (Nos. 20, 23-24, 26-27, Decca Legends 4684912, 2 CDs, or coupled as on BIS, Nos. 20 and 27, Decca 4767092, download only from prestoclassical.co.uk, or Curzon’s complete Decca recordings, 4784389, 23 CDs)
- Alfred Brendel with the ASMF/Neville Marriner (Nos. 19-21, 23 and 24, Decca Duo 4422692, 2 CDs)
- Mitsuko Uchida with the ECO/Jeffrey Tate (Nos. 19-23, Decca Duo 4685402). See download review for the Brendel and Uchida, both excellent value on CD or as downloads.
As for the competition on the fortepiano, I thought Arthur Schoonderwoerd a little too Dresden-china-ish in No.20: Accent ACC24365 (with No.21) - see download review. Brautigam’s performance is snappier and free from comparisons with delicate ceramics. Otherwise fortepiano-seekers will have to turn to Malcolm Bilson’s complete set with John Eliot Gardiner and his English Baroque Soloists on DG Archiv (E4631112, 9 CDs for around Ł45 or download in 320kb/s mp3 from 7digital.com for Ł28.99).
Competition is slightly less fierce in No.27, with Clifford Curzon/Benjamin Britten (see above) and Alfred Brendel/Neville Marriner (Nos. 9, 15, 22, 25 and 27, Decca Duo 442 571-2 - review) my top dogs. If you tend to think of this concerto - as I usually do - as not quite reaching the Elysian heights of Nos. 20-24, Brautigam could be the man to make you think again. Certainly I thought it far less easy than usual to maintain that point of view after hearing the new recording.
I downloaded the recording from eclassical.com, where it’s available in 24-bit, CD-quality 16-bit and mp3 sound. The 24-bit version is excellent but even the mp3 sounds fine, which leads me confidently to predict that the (SA)CD will also be excellent. The smallish orchestra and the solo instrument are well balanced so that the former sounds full-bodied; not large-scale, but by no means pint-sized or desiccated as described in those notorious reviews, and the soloist shines without being too forward.
I’ve said that I wouldn’t quite have given earlier volumes that top 5-star rating, but this is the best of the series so far. Were we still in the business of awarding stars, I think I might go for four-and-a-half. 54 minutes is a bit mean for a CD these days; if you decide to download from BIS’s sister site, eclassical.com, their policy of charging per second brings the price down to for the 16-bit and mp3 versions. As I write the 24-bit is also on offer at the same price, with a 30% discount on BIS-1894; that’s a time-limited offer but the price will still be competitive after its expiry. The booklet comes as part of the deal, in pdf form.
Masterwork Index: Mozart Piano Concerto 20 ~~ Concerto 27
The most satisfying in this series so far - if you want the fortepiano in these works, this is your best choice.
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