Weber: Complete Works for Piano & Orchestra / Brautigam, Willens, Kölner Akademie
Carl Maria von Weber wrote music that has been admired by composers as diverse as Schumann, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky. But in his lifetime he was also recognized as one of the finest pianists of the period, with an exceptional technique and a brilliant gift for improvisation. Especially during the 1810s he toured extensively, and like other composer-pianists he wrote works to use as his personal calling cards, among them the two piano concertos recorded here. They were both composed in 1811-12, but while the First Concerto takes Mozart’s concertos as its model, Piano Concerto No. 2 looks towards Beethoven. This change of direction was probably influenced by the fact that Weber had acquired a score of Beethoven’s recently published Emperor Concerto. In any case there are some striking similarities between his concerto and Beethoven’s: the use of identical keys, and the inclusion of a slow, subtly orchestrated Adagio and a closing playful rondo in 6/8. Weber is unmistakably Weber, however: a highly original orchestrator whose music is at turns brilliant, melancholy and charming. These qualities are to the fore also in the Konzertstück from 1821, in which the composer liberates himself from Classical models and finds a new path. Much admired by Liszt, the work is a kind of symphonic poem in four sections, played without a break. Following highly acclaimed recordings of the complete concertos by Mozart and Beethoven as well as Mendelssohn, this disc brings the team of Ronald Brautigam and Kölner Akademie to the very crossroads of Classicism and Romanticism.
It is a mystery to me why these marvellously crafted, pianistically challenging and ear-catchingly memorable works aren’t much better known – whilst there have been a few recordings over the years they tend only infrequently to turn up on concert programmes. The same point could be made about the composer’s four piano sonatas; not least because Weber wrote as idiomatically and adventurously for the keyboard as one would expect from an individual who happened to be one of the foremost virtuosi of his day.
The Kölner Akademie’s rapt accompaniment (solo strings in No 1, solo group alternating with small orchestra in No 2) in each case is perfectly poised and appropriately weighted against the agreeably plump yet discreet sounds emanating from the Dutchman’s fortepiano. What is inarguable is that Brautigam invests the indubitably jolly elements of the outer movements with bags of character. Brautigam’s instrument (a wonderfully characterful Paul McNulty copy of a Conrad Graf fortepiano which originated at exactly the time of these compositions) has at its disposal a palette which suits Weber’s hyperactivity and sudden mood changes with equal aptness. The florid Beethoveniana of the opening movement of the second concerto benefits especially from its lustre.
In the final analysis listeners like myself are more frequently reaching the conclusion that we need to hear this repertoire on both modern and historical instruments. I’m pretty sure this exceptional recording is pioneering in the latter regard – those fortunate enough to have the right equipment will certainly enjoy the SACD option, but the stereo sound proves considerably fatter and more three dimensional than its Hyperion counterpart, although I will certainly not be parting with that disc. It goes without saying that Brautigam is always worth hearing in any case.
– MusicWeb International (Richard Hanlon)
Catalog Number: BIS-2384
Composer: Carl Maria von Weber
Conductor: Michael Alexander Willens
Orchestra/Ensemble: Kölner Akademie
Performer: Ronald Brautigam