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Briefly Noted: C.P.E. Bach

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C.P.E. Bach, Heilig / Magnificat, E. Watts, W. Lehmkuhl, L. Odinius, M. Eiche, RIAS Kammerchor, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, H.-C. Rademann

(released on February 11, 2014)
Harmonia Mundi HM2167D | 55'32"
The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin was at the Library of Congress earlier this month, performing some instrumental music by C.P.E. Bach, part of that institution's observance of the 300th anniversary of the composer's birth. This recent disc provides a brief survey of some of C.P.E. Bach's sacred music, based on a concert the composer himself presented in Hamburg, where he was music director, on Palm Sunday (April 9) in 1786. It was a benefit concert, organized on behalf of a group of doctors who treated poor patients pro bono. After a first half focused on the two giants of the generation before him, his father, J.S. Bach, and Handel, the second half featured the pieces recorded on this disc, a sampling of C.P.E. Bach's compositional achievement: his 1749 setting of the Magnificat canticle, Heilig for double choir (composed in 1776, when C.P.E. was in Hamburg), and the first of his orchestral symphonies, Wq. 183, from 1780, the last set of his symphonies -- pioneering because of their independent treatment of a large wind section (more on this in the excellent booklet essay by Peter Wollny, of the Bach-Archiv in Leipzig). It is likely that C.P.E. composed the Magnificat, at the end of his service in Berlin, as an audition piece for his father's job in Leipzig, so it is no mistake that it ends with an extensive contrapuntal Sicut erat in principio, one of several demanding choral pieces sung with consummate clarity by the RIAS Kammerchor. The standout discovery among the quartet of soloists is mezzo-soprano Wiebke Lehmkuhl, who is nothing short of remarkable in the duet Deposuit potentes de sede (with tenor) and in the solo setting of the Suscepit Israel puerum suum, as well as in the brief Ariette Herr, wert, daß Scharen der Engel, which introduces the double-choir section of Heilig.

For those in the Washington area, this disc also provides a preview of an almost identical concert planned by Washington Bach Consort next month (May 4, 3 pm). You can listen to the recording and compare notes.

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