Mozart Piano Concertos No. 24 & 25
If Mozart concertos on the fortepiano still conjure images of winsome Dresden china shepherdesses, this beautifully recorded disc should make you think again. Playing on a fine, un‑jangly modern copy of an Anton Walter instrument, with its silvery, singing treble and clear, percussive bass, Ronald Brautigam gives bold, invigorating performances of these contrasting concertos from 1786. Choosing swift tempi (the opening movement of K503 is more con brio than maestoso), Brautigam thinks big, phrasing in long, surging spans and imbuing Mozart’s passagework with a powerful sense of direction. K491 drives passionately, even impetuously forward, with minimal affectionate or elegiac lingering in the first movement’s lyrical themes. In the first-movement developments of both concertos Brautigam and the responsive Cologne period band create a thrilling sense of ineluctably mounting tension, with an ideal clarity of texture in the elaborate contrapuntal imbroglio of K503. The pianist’s cadenzas (Mozart’s own do not survive) are refreshingly brief and ungimmicky.
Brautigam’s gift of thinking large and seeing long pays dividends in the majestic Andante of K503 (enhanced by discreet embellishments), though the brisk, no‑nonsense tempo in the Larghetto of K491 can short-change the music’s charm. Even the excellent Cologne woodwind players sound a shade flustered in the first episode, while the serenading second episode is urgent rather than sensuous, à la Così fan tutte. Brautigam’s conception of Allegretto for the finales, too, is unusually fast, though unlike some performers he has noted that Mozart’s time signature in K491 indicates two rather than four beats to a bar. Occasionally in K503 a passage sounds over-impatient. Far more often, in both finales Brautigam’s choice of speeds is vindicated by the clarity and point of his articulation, and his delicate, spontaneous-sounding inflections of the melodic line. Whatever my reservations, this is exhilarating, often thought-provoking Mozart-playing, at least a match for the more broadly conceived but less boldly projected – and sometimes slightly mannered – Archiv recordings from Malcolm Bilson and John Eliot Gardiner.