Instrumental Concerts by Wilms

The current concerts of the Kölner Akademie feature works by Johann Wilhelm Wilms. However, these are not exclusively purely orchestral works, but also include concertos with soloists. Both his Flute Concerto in D major, op. 24, and the last of the five surviving Piano Concertos, op. 55, show that Wilms wrote the music here to suit the instruments. No wonder, since he himself was one of the most important virtuosos of his time on both instruments. At the same time, his compositions benefited from his own orchestral experience, for he knew the orchestra and the necessities of writing for it very well from his own experience. In 1813 he composed the Flute Concerto in D major, op. 24, one of two surviving flute concertos. Already in the first movement it becomes clear how wonderfully Wilms lets the solo instrument play together with the orchestra. Sometimes this happens together, then in musical conversation. These conversations are especially charming because of the little dialogues between the flute and the other woodwinds. At the same time, this first movement also makes clear how demanding and virtuosic Wilms was in his writing for the time: The solo part places high demands on the flutist – here was someone at work who knew the instrument and its possibilities like the back of his hand. No less challenging is the slow middle movement, which presents the soloist with tonal challenges of a completely different kind. A cheerful musical finale is the final movement, which is especially amusing in that at first only wind instruments and soloists are heard.

The soloist in these concerts is the Spanish Barbara Ferraz Balboa. She began her studies in Spain and after studying modern flute decided to concentrate on early music. For this she moved to Brussels, where she studied transverse flute at the Royal Conservatory, graduating with a master’s degree in 2019. In addition to her teaching activities, she is a regular guest with ensembles such as La Petite Bande, L’Arpeggiata, the B’Rock Orchestra – and of course Kölner Akademie!

The anniversary concert in Leichlingen will feature the last of Wilms’ five surviving piano concertos, his Opus 55, which was composed a few years after the Flute Concerto and edited by the pianist of the evening, the Dutchman Ronald Brautigam. The latter has just released the complete recording of Wilms’ piano concertos in two CDs together with the Kölner Akademie.

Wilms’ piano concertos also testify to his great knowledge of the orchestral apparatus and are at the same time evidence of his own pianistic skills. However, this is more sophisticated, elegant piano playing than virtual bluster, as is no different with the previous concertos. As in the Flute Concerto, Wilms allows the piano part and the orchestra to correspond wonderfully and flow into each other. Only in the slow middle movement is the piano heard without the orchestra in the background. The work is concluded cheerfully and with a wonderful lightness in a brisk rondo.

The Dutchman Ronald Brautigam is a welcome guest at the Kölner Akademie – numerous joint projects in the form of concerts and recordings bear witness to this almost ideal collaboration.

One of the leading pianists of his generation, Ronald Brautigam is one of the few to perform at the highest level on modern as well as period instruments. A student of the legendary Rudolf Serkin, he has over the years established himself as an authority on the classical and early romantic composers, with an acclaimed discography on the BIS label that includes complete cycles of works by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven as well as recordings of solo works and concertos by Kraus, Weber and Mendelssohn. Ronald Brautigam has performed with leading orchestras across the world – from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra – as well as the foremost period ensembles. In 2009 he began what has proved a highly successful collaboration with the Kölner Akademie and its conductor Michael Alexander Willens, resulting in acclaimed recordings of the complete piano concertos of Mozart (11 discs), Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Weber. Current recording projects include the piano concertos by the Dutch-German composer Johann Wilhelm Wilms (1772 – 1847). In 2004 Ronald Brautigam released the first instalment of a 15-disc Beethoven cycle on fortepiano, prompting the reviewer of the US magazine Fanfare to envisage a series ‘that challenges the very notion of playing this music on modern instruments, a stylistic paradigm shift.’

Featuring the piano sonatas, the first nine discs of the cycle were awarded an Edison Award and the prestigious Jahrespreise der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik in 2015. Besides his work for BIS, Ronald Brautigam has recorded piano concertos by Shostakovich, Hindemith and Frank Martin with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Chailly, as well as several discs with violinist Isabelle van Keulen and cellist Christian Poltéra. His recordings have earned him a number of awards including three Edisons, a Diapason d’Or de l’Année, and two MIDEM Classical Awards, for best solo piano and best concerto recording respectively. His editorial work includes a reconstruction of the orchestral score of Beethoven’s piano concerto WoO4 from 1784, as well as an edition of the 5 piano concertos by Johann Wilhelm Wilms.