Ronald Brautigam brought the Kölner Akademie to the Concertgebouw for an ode to Mozart. Two of his piano concertos, an infrequently performed symphony, preceded by one of Haydn’s “Passion” symphonies, each on period instruments, resulted in another Robeco Summer Night programming success. With the illusion of perfect ease, the celebrated Dutch pianist offered delightful Mozartian joy and merriment, while Michael Alexander Willens, the American founder of the German ensemble, led his authentic orchestra in this sprightly journey through the Classical period.

Ronald Brautigam © Marco Borggreve
Ronald Brautigam
© Marco Borggreve

The first movement Allegro con brio of Haydn’s Symphony no. 44 in E minor “Mourning” set the tone for the Classical, elegant, energy for the rest of the evening. Although Haydn doesn’t explicitly acknowledge the Germanic current of Sturm und Drang as a direct influence, this rich symphony includes subtle, alluring moments, as well as tempestuous and feverish passages, including the terrific coda in the final movement that delivers prescient Romantic passion.

Melancholic hues filled the Minuet in the second movement. Then, Willens contrasted the strings with the remarkable horn solo in the Trio. In the Adagio, gracefully soft-spoken strings took over with a crisp sound, polished by the Great Hall’s acoustics, all resulting in a wonderful rendition of Haydn’s highly melodic, slow third movement. In the Finale: Presto, brimming with energy Willens led the strings, creating a resounding lustre that enraptured the listener, climaxing in the electrifying coda with the earlier motif in an ascending pattern.

In Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 12 in A major, Brautigam, the silver-maned Dutchman, impressed with great lyricism, especially in the first movement. This lighthearted piece belongs to the Austrian’s early Viennese concertos. For the Andante, Mozart quotes from the overture of Johann Christian Bach’s opera La calamita di cuori, as an ode to his recently deceased tutor. In this second movement, Brautigam evoked some dreamy moments during his soothing, solo passages. Without any dramatics, his finale Rondo sounded fresh and was full of joy and merriment.

After the intermission, Willens recharged the audience with a performance of Mozart’s Symphony no. 17 in G major. This tiny gem continued the night’s Classicism, expressed by the marvellously conducted clarity earlier experienced with Haydn. In Mozart’s minimal orchestration of strings, two oboes and two horns, the violin solo in the second movement Andante emerged as the highlight in this refined rendition, revealing the excellence of the ensemble’s musicians.

For the final piece, Brautigam returned for a joyous performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat “Jeunehomme”. Willens quickly built up the opening momentum with the strings, sweeping the listener off his feet. As Brautigam joined in with his racing passages, he let his notes twinkle and demonstrated great sensitivity to the delicate colours of the fortepiano. Willens continued with a deliberate pace, deftly accompanying his soloist. Brautigam and the Kölner Akademie’s performance of this concerto resulted in the highpoint of the evening, making their future collaborations something truly exciting to look forward to.