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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Concerto in F major, H.454, W. 38 (1763) [21.26]
Sonatina in D major, H. 456, W. 102 (1763) [17.15]
Concerto in C major, H.423, W.20 (1746) [26.34] [all World Premier recordings]
Miklós Spányi, tangent piano, built in 1998 by G. Potvlieghe, Ninove, Belgium, after B. Pastori, 1799.
Concerto Armonico, Péter Szüts, leader - performing on period instruments
Cadenzas: Concerto in F major, (2nd movement): original
Concerto in C major, (2nd movement): improvised at the recording session.
Recorded Phoenix Studio, Budapest, Hungary, November 1999
Notes in English, Deutsche, and Français. Photos of artists and instruments.
The Complete Keyboard Concertos, Volume 12
BIS CD 1127 [66.12]

Additional recordings by Miklós Spányi and Péter Szüts

Harpsichord Concertos in c, H441; d, H427; F, H443. Hungaroton HCD 31159
Harpsichord Concertos Volumes 1 - 11 BIS 707/8,767/8,785/6,857,867/8,914,1097

Certainly I will never forget my introduction to this music, in the form of H 427. The University of Southern California student orchestra was conducted from the cembalo continuo by Ingolf Dahl, the cembalo concertato was played by Ronald Ratcliffe, and from the first notes I was utterly transported. I had been completely unaware that such magnificent music existed from the pen of C.P.E. Bach, and my feelings were so intensely aroused that I remember visualising the harpsichord as a boat borne upon the waves of violin bows as on a raging ocean. Naturally I immediately bought what LP recordings there were, and over the years there have been several of H. 427. Recordings available at the time of other concerti by C.P.E. Bach were usually disappointingly thin and uncommitted, but I also bought them anyway.

We are finally discovering what Mozart, Haydn, and Burney all told us: that C.P.E. Bach was a major composer. I believe that eventually his operas will become as popular as his keyboard concerti.

As it turns out I am familiar with this entire set of concerti to date, and it is a whole planet of delights and amazing discoveries. The variety of the works is at once delightful and suspicious, for they cannot all actually be original works by C.P.E. Bach. At least one (H.414) is surely by Johann Sebastian, an otherwise lost secular cantata sinfonia with trumpets and drums and clavier obbligato, possibly remembered by C.P.E. and written out as a keyboard concerto. Others could be arrangements of works by contemporaries and relatives ó remember that much of the miscellaneous Bach family music went up with the Dresden Library. Also, most of C.P.E. Bachís concertos for other instruments end up as part of this set arranged for keyboard.

The tangent piano uses a hard brass wedge as a hammer, and sounds much like a piano with tacks driven into the faces of the hammers ó what we used in my youth to play baroque music on until we could afford our own real harpsichords. The sound closely matches a harpsichord and blends as well with the strings. Most listeners would just assume it is a slightly odd harpsichord.

This series of the complete harpsichord concerti of C.P.E. Bach is one of the most important and monumental recording projects of the century so far. For the future (if we have one) one sees these works competing in popularity with the piano concerti of Mozart, and this first complete recording is of such extreme quality both in performance and recording that it will surely remain the standard for decades to come. If you are the sort of collector who has several complete sets of the Mozart Piano concerti, then you will want to run out and buy this complete set of (so far) thirteen (!) full price (!) CDs. You will never regret doing so.

For the rest of us ó well, the d minor keyboard concerto bears a similar relationship to C.P.E. Bachís whole set of concerti that Mozartís d minor piano concerto, K 466, bears to Mozartís whole set of piano concerti, in that both works in d minor are the most dramatic, perhaps the most romantic, certainly the most immediately accessible of the set. Therefore, if you arenít to ready to plunge and instead want to get just one foot wet at a time, you will want to buy the Hungaroton disk listed above. It contains the insuperable H. 427 and was evidently the spark that ignited this whole series. With nearly forty concerti already recorded and evidently more to come there is plenty of space to mix metaphors in the amazing variety of moods and sounds.

Some of the works in this series are not called "concerto" but "sonatina" instead. These latter works are in two movements and are often more reflective in nature, but feature a cembalo concertato accompanied by an orchestra and are concerti in the modern sense of the term. Some of them could probably be played by solo instruments and would thus constitute keyboard quintets or sextets, but the one on this disk, H.456, is clearly orchestral in concept, with brass and winds, both movements in rondo form, and the first movement is one of the most delightful and original in the entire series.

But you might reasonably object: If theyíve already made eleven volumes of this music, arenít they scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of musical quality? Are the performers getting tired? The answer to both questions is an unqualified NO. If this were the first and only CD in the series it would still deserve all the praise Iíve given. Both H.456 and H.423 are among the better of the works in the series, wholly deserving of the concentration and energy put into performing them. If you come across this volume by itself on special sale in a shop, or if you are searching for an appropriate gift for a collector who might or might not have some of the earlier CDs in the series, this disk is in every way worthy ó exceptional ó on its own.

Paul Shoemaker


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