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C. P. E. Bach's Concertos (and Symphonies)

available at Amazon
C. P. E. Bach, Concertos and Symphonies, Akademie für Alte Musik

(re-released on April 8, 2008)
Harmonia Mundi HMG 501711

Keyboard Concerto in C major (H 423 / Wq 20, 1746) | Cello Concerto in A minor (H 432, Wq 170, c. 1750) | Symphony in G major (H 648 / Wq 173, as early as 1741) | Symphony in E minor (H 653 / Wq 178, 1756) | Symphony in E flat major (H 654 / Wq 179, 1757)

Complete Works of C. P. E. Bach
The Akademie für Alte Musik, the finest German proponents of historically informed performance, has done perhaps more than any other ensemble to advance the cause of C. P. E. Bach's orchestral music. In the time since we reviewed their first-ever American tour in 2005, the group may be slightly better known among American listeners, but it is likely still worth mentioning this recently re-released disc, originally from 2001. C. P. E. Bach scholarship shifted into high gear in many ways in 1999, when many of the pieces of the composer's sacred music, from his Hamburg period, thought lost since the Second World War, were rediscovered in the archives of the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin. This made the possibility of a real complete works edition possible, planned for completion in 2014 (the 300th anniversary of the composer's birth) -- the series' general editor, Peter Wollny, contributed a brief liner essay on C. P. E. Bach and Empfindsamkeit for this release. Performances as good as this one will hopefully help bring Bach's music -- and there is so much of it -- to a broader audience.

This assortment of three fluffy symphonies and two much more substantial concertos says something about the relative importance of the two genres in the pre-Classical period. None of the symphonies is longer than 10 or 11 minutes, having more in common with the diverting early Haydn symphony than the transcendent type of work it was transformed into by Beethoven, while the concertos are double that length, virtuosic vehicles for the composer and the other lead soloists of the Berlin court. All five pieces date from the 1740s and 50s, the glory years of Bach's employment in the court orchestra of Frederick II, crowned King of Prussia in 1740, and before Bach took the position as Kapellmeister in Hamburg, in 1768, succeeding Telemann. They are all beautiful pieces, although the concertos do strike the ear as having been more carefully constructed, especially the particularly gorgeous harpsichord concerto included here (C major, H 423 / Wq 20, 1746), with the group's harpsichordist, Raphael Alpermann, in sparkling form. The ensemble sounds uniformly strong, the spirited fast movements crispy with vitality and edge, and glinting colors of pale transverse flutes, croaking bassoon, and refined horns added gracefully. All of this is accomplished, as has always been the group's tradition, without the domineering figure of a conductor. Highly recommended, especially at the discounted price of the Harmonia Gold re-release label.


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