Johann Wilms Piano Concertos Rescued from Obscurity

Not much remains of the legacy of Johann Wilhelm Wilms (1772–1847). He was a major figure in Amsterdam, admired both as a composer and a pianist. He premiered the concertos of his contemporaries, Mozart and Beethoven, to great acclaim. He was a professor at the Koninklijk Nederlandsch Instituut voor Wetenschappen. He judged composition contests and wrote several influential articles on music.

And Wilms composed. He wrote at least seven symphonies, five piano concertos, and a raft of chamber music. He also wrote the Dutch national anthem. Yet after his death, Wilms’ music all but disappeared. It wasn’t just a lack of performances.  His manuscripts were not curated, and several have been lost.

Wilms’ catalog of works is only an approximation of his actual output. That’s what makes this release so exciting (at least for me). It’s volume one of Johann Wilms’ piano concertos.

It’s music worth exploring. Wilms was a talented player, and his concertos show his skill. Stylistically, these concertos land between Mozart and early Beethoven. Wilms’ concertos all have clean, simple forms. The melodies are straightforward, yet still manage to surprise.

Ronald Brautigam performs on a fortepiano. I don’t normally enjoy this instrument, but Brautigam’s fortepiano is up to the task. The action is virtually silent, and the instrument holds the pitches quite well. All that comes through is the distinctive timber of the instrument (as opposed to that of a modern piano).

The Kölner Akademie, directed by Michael Alexander Willens, is in fine form. Willens keeps the ensemble light on its feet. And he leans into the Mozartian elements of Wilms’ music.

Would Wilms have been as successful in Vienna as he was in Amsterdam? Hard to say. Other composer/pianists went toe-to-toe with Beethoven and lost. But Wilms’ music is well-crafted. And these concertos are certainly undeserving of the obscurity they were consigned to.

I’m very much looking forward to volume two.

Johann Wilhelm Wilms: Piano Concertos, Volume 1
Piano Concerto in E major, Op. 3; Piano Concerto in C major, Op. 12; Piano Concerto in D major, Op. 26
Ronald Brautigam, fortepiano
Kölner Akademie; Michael Alexander Willens, conductor

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