There are three principal joys of the “Bogotá is Mozart” festival: visiting a variety of different venues; hearing a range of both local and European ensembles; and catching up with some lesser-programmed Mozart. This delightful concert found me at the Teatro Cólon, in the historic Candelaria area of the city, to hear the splendid Kölner Akademie in a programme mixing the familiar (the opening strains of Mozart’s Symphony no. 40 in G minor bringing nods of recognition from the audience) with the rarely heard Piano Concerto no. 13 in C major. As a recipe for success, this programme truly had a head start.

Ronald Brautigam and the Kölner Akademie © Juan Ruy Castaño
Ronald Brautigam and the Kölner Akademie
© Juan Ruy Castaño

The Teatro de Cristóbal Cólon was designed by Pietro Cantini on the European neoclassical model, opening its doors in 1892. It has a traditional horseshoe layout, with tiered boxes and an exquisite ceiling painted with frescoes of six muses. An absolute gem, it reminded me of the Palais Garnier, just on a smaller scale. It seats just 785 people, so the atmosphere is intimate – perfect for this programme by the period instrument Kölner Akademie.

Formed in 1996, the Akademie plays a huge range of music on both period and modern instruments. Period instruments were the order of the day and the historically informed practice included seating arrangements. Conductor Michael Alexander Willens explained that he splits the two double basses either side of the ensemble to reflect paintings of orchestras at the end of the 18th century.

Il sogno di Scipione was composed as a “dramatic serenade” in one act (azione teatrale) and its overture made for a palate-cleansing opener. With just 15 strings (5-4-2-2-2) the Akademie’s sound was lean and clean, but perfectly strong enough to project in the Cólon’s dry acoustic without forcing their attack. Elegant string phrasing was matched by the woodwinds, especially the oboes.

The Akademie’s sound also meant that the ensemble never overpowered Ronald Brautigam, the soloist in the Piano Concerto in C, K415. The fortepiano, sourced here in Bogotá, had a pleasant tone, quite bright in the upper registers. Mozart composed it for himself to perform in Vienna, as part of a subscription series, in 1782-3. Trumpets announced a military swagger in the opulent opening Allegro, as fortepiano engaged in a joyous battle with the orchestra. The high point came in the second movement Andante, introduced by a singing string line in F major. Brautigam’s tender phrasing was delightful, with the finest control in his trills. The Rondo finale was buoyantly paced by Willens, the theme counterbalanced by darker C minor Adagio sections, which makes the movement far from a happy romp to the finishing line. 

The Teatro Cólon ceiling © Mark Pullinger
The Teatro Cólon ceiling
© Mark Pullinger
The G minor Symphony no. 40 (sometimes given the title “the Great” to distinguish it from his other G minor symphony, no. 25, made an excellent second half to the programme. This was performed in Mozart’s original version, without clarinets. The troubled opening of the first movement was taken swiftly, its turbulent string theme met by boisterous brass and woodwinds. String intonation wavered occasionally in the lyrical Andante, but the Menuet, with its rather angry, cross-accented rhythms had all the requisite swagger required. The contrasting trio section had plenty of flute and oboe sweetness. The “Mannheim rocket” launched the finale with much aplomb, with exciting brass contributions throughout to bring the concert to a spirited close.

A truly beautiful venue, wonderful music, superbly played. Throw in a pre-performance canelazo – a hot, sugary (alcoholic) drink, infused with cinnamon – and it made for a wonderful experience.