Ronald Brautigam is a noted exponent of the fortepiano and has made a number of recordings of Mozart for BIS. I have heard him in live performances of several of these works including, some years ago, K415. On that occasion he was using a 2003 Paul McNulty reconstruction of an 1803 Anton Walter piano. In this release he uses another McNulty instrument, made in 2013 based on an 1802 Walter. Both are notable for their fullness of tone and evenness of timbre throughout the entire range.
In this recorded K415, Brautigam’s approach is a little more measured than previously. In this (and other Concertos) there were moments of tension and hints of added rapidity in the faster movements whereas now there is an even and constant drive. The pianist seems to have an ideal conductor in Michael Alexander Willens to support his fiery yet animated approach; the occasional expressive shaping or dynamic adjustment is convincing since it reflects the pianist’s approach to the same melodies. This forceful account of K415 benefits from a splendid recording with a superbly balanced orchestra in which trumpets and drums are given their head. Much strength is invested here and the Finale, though based on a surprisingly uncomplicated theme, is strangely fashioned with slow interludes wherein Brautigam makes the most of these shadowy diversions from what is otherwise jolly.
K413, though more lightly scored, is still a potent work with dark shades in the opening movement and Brautigam takes a dramatic view of it. This and K415 are two of the group of three Concertos dating from 1783 where Mozart also approved performances to take place using a string quartet to support the keyboard. In the central Larghetto Brautigam adds a romantic flavour to the somewhat simple melodies and is unhurried in the Finale which is in Minuet rhythm – a piece so lyrical that, rather than a dance, it becomes an elegant fantasia.
K246 is very different. Composed seven years earlier for his pupil Countess Antonia Lützow it is relatively straightforward, in particular the left hand seems to have fewer demands placed upon it although there is some sparkling passagework. John Irving’s informative booklet note mentions that Mozart wrote three cadenzas for each of the first two movements, some several years later. The examples chosen here seem quite elaborate but neatly related to the thematic material. The Finale combines rondo and minuet elements and features several lively moments from the pianist, where there is a hint of Brautigam’s tendency to ease forward.
In all three accounts the detail afforded the fortepiano is admirable but the balance of the instrument is not over-forward and the Kölner Akademie wraps proportionately around it. A wide left-to-right/high-to-low spread is given to the keyboard – a technique quite often favoured by engineers – and although this might not typify what is heard in a concert, this stereo spread seems to give a sense of comfort for home listening.