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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
The Complete Keyboard Concertos - Volume 10 [69.05]
Concerto in G major H. 419 [24.28]
Sonatina in F major H. 452 [22.12]
Concerto in B flat major H. 447 [21.57]
Miklós Spányi, tangent piano
Concerto Armonico, Péter Szüts
Rec: October 1997
BIS CD-914 [69.05]
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Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was the most illustrious of Johann Sebastian Bach's sons. His composing career was long and he was quite prolific, writing dozens of sonatas, concertos and other works. (According to Miklós Spányi, there are 52 keyboard concertos and 12 sonatinas, in addition to the many solo keyboard works.) This recording contains two concertos and a sonatina of vastly different character, composed over a period of 15 years.

One of the unique characteristics of this recording is the use of a tangent piano - a sort of hybrid instrument whose sound lies somewhere between the harpsichord and clavichord. It has a beautiful sound, and is quite unique. The down side is that, like the clavichord, it is a very soft instrument, and it does not work well with an instrumental group.

The G major concerto is dated 1745 but may have been written earlier. The fast movements have an elegant, gallant feel to them, with the solo keyboard sections being quite virtuosic. The slow central movement is very expressive, and slides back and forth between the major key and a minor mode. This is an attractive piece, with some beautiful passages in the third movement, as the keyboard develops an interesting interplay with the orchestra.

Rather than the usual fast-slow-fast concerto form, the F major sonatina follows a slow-fast-slow form. This work, originally written for public concerts, is scored for keyboard, strings and winds, and the opening largo is more focused on the orchestra than the keyboard. The long third movement (over 11 minutes long on this recording), however, is where the keyboard shines. The alternating solo and tutti sections are dominated by the keyboard. Unlike the usual alternations heard in concertos, this movement is almost like a small suite. The orchestra plays a short section (itself containing a striking conflict between slow sections with strings and winds and faster sections with the entire orchestra and keyboard), then the keyboard plays its part, and this continues several times. These solo keyboard sections, which are like little solo pieces, are certainly the high point of this recording. It is here that one can fully appreciate the sound of the tangent piano, a relatively rare instrument on recordings. Unfortunately, it is also here that one finds the most contrasts in volume between the keyboard and orchestral passages. This makes for difficult listening, as one needs to turn the volume up to heard the tangent piano, but the resulting volume of the orchestra is overwhelming.

The B flat major concerto is a much more 'balanced' work - this is closer to the 'standard' concerto form than the F major sonatina. With its three movements all around the same length, and its highly developed keyboard parts, this work is more sophisticated musically than the other two pieces on this disc. The melodies developed in the first movement are very attractive, and shows Bach here at his most creative.

Overall, this is a satisfying recording. The three works on this disc are very different, and show a fine overview of CPE Bach's style. It is refreshing to hear an instrument that is not recorded often, although the recording itself is a fine example of why this is the case - the tangent piano is too soft in comparison with the orchestra, leading either to headaches, from turning the volume up enough to hear it, or to constant changing of the volume. I find it difficult to imagine that this instrument was used in performance with an orchestra, albeit small. Perhaps it was located close enough to a small audience for them to hear it better.

An attractive recording of three very different works for keyboard and orchestra, featuring a tangent piano. While the relative volume of the keyboard is a problem, the music is delightful and well-performed.

Kirk McElhearn

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