MENDELSSOHN Piano Concertos (Prosseda)
No sooner had one account of the Mendelssohn concertos arrived from Roberto Prosseda than another one turned up, this time from Ronald Brautigam. They vividly demonstrate the different approaches that can be taken with this music. The most obvious difference is down to instruments – Prosseda plays a Fazioli and is accompanied by the relatively large-scale forces of The Hague Residentie Orchestra under Jan Willem de Vriend. Brautigam opts for a Paul McNulty piano based on an 1830 Pleyel and is reunited with the Cologne Academy and Michael Alexander Willens, with whom he recorded his Mozart concerto cycle.
To take the concertos first, both bring to the opening movement of No 1 in G minor a fiery energy; but whereas Prosseda can sound slightly overblown in the accentuation, Brautigam always feels within the scale of the music, while the colours he coaxes from the McNulty are very refreshing. In the slow movement I find Brautigam slightly lacking in poetry compared to, say, Howard Shelley or Stephen Hough. But Prosseda misjudges things, to my mind, his spacious tempo stretching the lines almost to breaking point. On the other hand, I do like the élan with which Prosseda approaches the finale, fearless in the face of Mendelssohn’s extremes of virtuosity. Turn to Brautigam, though, and he’s even more daring, the air in the textures ensuring that the music never becomes a mere note-fest.
The Second Concerto’s Adagio has a sweet sincerity in Brautigam’s hands but he doesn’t quite find the tenderness of Prosseda here (and de Vriend responds with a beautifully shaped orchestral line). By comparison, Hough takes a pretty speedy view of matters, while Thibaudet and Shelley are both positively luxuriant, Shelley perhaps taking things a little too far. Brautigam’s finale goes at a real lick, giving it a thrilling one-in-a-bar feel, which is emphasised by the Cologne Academy’s absolute precision of ensemble. Prosseda’s account is a little more spacious, allowing pianist and orchestra time to relish Mendelssohn’s more poised moments to good effect.
Brautigam launches his disc with the Rondo brillant and for once the exuberant muscularity of the soloist’s opening phrases don’t sound unwieldy. The relative lightness of the McNulty instrument ensures that even when Brautigam really plays out, there’s no fear of him overwhelming the orchestra, with moments such as crisp figuration in which piano duets with wind (track 1, from 2'50") delightfully realised. Prosseda by contrast sounds a little ungainly.
The Decca disc is completed with a stylish account of the Hebrides Overture. From BIS we get the delightful fluff that is the Capriccio brillant, Op 22 – in which Brautigam gives Hough’s feather-light account a run for its money – and the CD ends with the Serenade and Allegro giojoso, in which Brautigam brings a wide range of colour to his opening solo. Hough is particularly good at revealing the simple beauties of the gently billowing Serenade, with Brautigam coming into his own in the energetic Allegro giojoso.