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One reason why Mozart’s piano concertos of the mid-1780s sound so beguiling has to do with his daring deployments of flute, oboe, bassoon and clarinet, or what Robert Levin has called his ‘emancipation of the winds’ and their subsequent ‘transformation of the orchestral texture’. The three concertos on these discs offer striking examples, from K456’s opening Allegro vivace, where Mozart takes the interplay between winds and strings through an ‘astonishing variety of combinations’ (John Irving’s words, from his essay for the Brautigam CD), to K491’s Larghetto, whose numerous wind solos led one critic to designate it a ‘sublimated serenade’.

K482 is the apogee of this expressive coloration, especially in the richly variegated dialogues of its gorgeous Andante. Mozart’s first piano concerto to include clarinets (replacing the oboes), it prompted HC Robbins Landon to declare that, ‘for sheer beauty of sound’, K482 remains peerless.

In a work where timbral blends and contrasts play such a vital role, Brautigam, with his copy of a Walter fortepiano from around 1795 and the piquant sounds of the period-instrument Kölner Akademie, perhaps has an advantage over Angela Hewitt, her Fazioli grand and the smoother-toned modern instruments of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra. In the end, neither recording quite does justice to the woodwinds, rarely affording them the degree of prominence they enjoy on Kristian Bezuidenhout’s 2012 Harmonia Mundi disc, which remains my benchmark version. Perhaps a more crucial difference between Brautigam and Hewitt is that she treats the Andante as essentially tragic, imbuing it with a muted, plaintive sadness that is exquisitely played, if emotionally rather monochromatic. Brautigam’s take is less prescriptive, staying open to the music’s shifting colours and ambiguities of mood.

Brautigam impresses in K456 too, where his gleefully scurrying tempos suit the outer movements’ playful artifice. The Andante un poco sostenuto is something else, an elaborate, ethereal dance between piano, winds and strings that unfolds through a set of variations. In the July/ August issue of IP, Brautigam recalled that he ‘fell in love’ with this movement (‘Music of my life’, issue 26), and that love is evident here, his every phrase shaped with tenderness.

K491 is an altogether stormier affair, scored for the largest orchestra Mozart ever employed for a piano concerto, and his only one to feature both clarinets and oboes. Angela Hewitt’s thrilling account of the turbulent Allegro gives full rein to this power, while avoiding the portentous gestures that have marred some versions. The Allegro is sometimes cited as Mozart’s proto-Romantic moment, foreshadowing a later conception of the concerto as a conflict between soloist and orchestra; yet the following Larghetto, with its ‘sublimated serenade’ of woodwind solos, reverts to a more egalitarian notion of instrumental interplay. In Hewitt’s hands, the piano’s threadbare tune takes on an unassuming dignity that is very affecting; as she observes in her booklet essay, ‘a huge amount of emotion lies behind the apparently simple notes’. The consummate artistry of her playing makes it palpable.

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Piano International, 2014 - ©Rhinegold Publishing