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Akademie für alte Musik Berlin

available at Amazon
C. P. E. Bach, Magnificat / Heilig ist Gott (motet), Akademie für alte Musik Berlin, RIAS Kammerchor, H.-C. Rademann
(Harmonia Mundi, 2014)

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J. Christian Bach, Missa da Requiem / Miserere, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, RIAS Kammerchor, H.-C. Rademann
(Harmonia Mundi, 2011)
Sometimes the attention from an anniversary year does not really change one's opinion about a composer's works. Such has been the case during the two-day concert series devoted to the music of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach at the Library of Congress. The most famous Bach son's keyboard music was overshadowed by other works on a recital by American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani. This was followed on Saturday night, in the performance by Akademie für alte Musik Berlin, by an upstaging of his symphonies by a delightful little barn-burner from the hand of his younger brother, Johann Christian Bach. As has struck me before, it is really C.P.E.'s concertos that are the most deserving of attention. This was borne out by the Akamus performance, their first in the area since their Washington debut at the Library of Congress in 2005, which might have been billed as the Xenia Löffler Show.

Löffler is the group's principal oboist, and as in their 2005 tour, her consummate musicianship and excellent command of a sometimes unruly instrument were featured in a concerto, this time by C.P.E. Bach (E-flat major, H. 468). In the first movement, the oboe is scored mostly with just cello and harpsichord, sometimes with light strings, meaning that Löffler could focus on beauty of sound, rather than volume. Two cadenzas (uncredited), in the first and second movements, were expressive and diverting, and the minor-mode second movement, in particular, featured the soloists's plangent shaping of the piece's beautiful melodies. The third movement featured some flawless passagework, too, with one key malfunction, from which Löffler recovered with graceful ease.

By contrast, C.P.E.'s fifth symphony (B minor, H. 661) seemed like not one of his best efforts, with some very high violin writing that sounded pinched here. Its three compact movements featured lots of rocketing violin doodles, strong bass lines, and violent contrasts of piano and forte -- and not much else. Two horn players came on the tour only to play the final piece on the program, a G minor symphony by Johann Christian Bach, a work that does everything the C.P.E. work does and does it better. The well-played horn parts, always reinforcing full tutti sections, were perhaps an unfair advantage, but the work does get bogged down in its middle movement, which felt like it needed some continuo decoration to liven things up.

Other Reviews:

Joan Reinthaler, Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin celebrates C.P.E. Bach with a well-performed program (Washington Post, April 7)
The rest of the program was more familiar, beginning with the same J. S. Bach orchestral suite the group played here in 2005 (C major, BWV 1066). Again, the "trio" group in many of the second dances -- two oboes and bassoon, especially the latter -- distinguished itself, and the Forlane stood out for its whirling motif of very fast notes, as did the second Menuett, for its ultra-soft, legato rendition by strings alone. If the playing felt just a little rough at the start of the Bach, it had definitely smoothed itself out for the F major concerto grosso by Handel (op. 6/2, HWV 320). Two violinists, Georg Kallweit and Gudrun Engelhardt, took the solo parts in a double-treble texture that recalled Corelli, from Handel's time in Rome. The slow transitions, many of them in this piece, seemed a little drab, calling out for some Handelian improvisation at the keyboard, which it did not receive. A spirited encore, the final (fugal) movement of Haydn's third symphony -- composed in the early 1760s, the piece actually predates the music by the Bach sons on this program -- rounded out a fine evening of music.

The Library of Congress concert series shifts from early music to contemporary music this week, with the residency of British composer Oliver Knussen (April 7 to 12).

1 comment:

Gary said...

This concert was delightful. I hope they come back to DC soon!