Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Cembalo Concertos Concerto in d minor (BWV 1052) [21:57]
Concerto in E (BWV 1053) [20:20]
Concerto in f minor (BWV 1056) [09:45]
Concerto in D (BWV 1054) [16:15]
Francesco Cera (harpsichord)
rec. 10-13 July 2005, 15
January 2008, Auditorium RSI, Lugano, Switzerland. DDD
Today the piano concerto is one of the most popular genres of
orchestral music. The classical and romantic piano concertos belong
to the core of the repertoire of symphony orchestras and pianists.
It was Johann Sebastian Bach who laid the foundation for this
genre. With his seven concertos for harpsichord and strings he
was the first in music history to give the keyboard such an important
role. His sons followed in his footsteps, and later in the 18th
century and the first decades of the 19th others further developed
the genre of the keyboard concerto, in particular Mozart and Beethoven.
None of Bach's concertos was originally written for the harpsichord.
All are arrangements of some kind of concertos previously written,
probably during Bach's time in Köthen, where he also wrote his
Brandenburg Concertos. There was a specific reason for Bach to
make these arrangements. In 1729 he had taken over as director
of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, founded by Georg Philipp
Telemann in 1702. The harpsichord concertos became part of the
repertoire of the Collegium Musicum. The performances usually
took place in Gottfried Zimmermann's coffee-house or in his gardens.
Often Bach's sons were participating in the concerts.
The harpsichord concertos have been preserved in one manuscript,
which also contains the fragment of an eighth concerto (BWV 1059).
It is assumed the manuscript was compiled about 1737-1739, and
one may assume it lays down what was played in the previous years.
The longest of the harpsichord concertos is the Concerto in d
minor (BWV 1052) which opens this disc. It is probably a reworking
of a lost violin concerto. According to Gunnar Wiegand in his
programme notes Bach used movements from some cantatas here. But
it is much more likely that these cantata movements are also reworkings
of the same violin concerto.
We have the same situation with the Concerto in E (BWV 1053):
it goes back to a lost concerto for oboe, and movements from this
concerto were transcribed as instrumental movements with obbligato
organ in the cantatas 49 and 169. The slow movement of the Concerto
in f minor (BWV 1056) also appears in a cantata, as the Sinfonia
to Cantata 156, 'Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe'. In its original
form this concerto very likely was scored for violin. The Concerto
in D (BWV 1054) is the only piece on this disc whose original
form has survived: the Concerto for violin, strings and bc in
E (BWV 1042), one of Bach's most popular instrumental works.
The harpsichord concertos are often numbered among Bach's 'orchestral
works', but considering the number of players Bach usually had
at his disposal it is more appropriate to describe them as chamber
music. They are scored for harpsichord, with two violin parts,
a viola part and bass. Only one of the concertos (BWV 1057, not
recorded here) has two additional parts for recorders. There is
general agreement that it is very unlikely Bach ever used more
than two instruments per part; that was the practice in Köthen,
and it is unlikely the situation in Leipzig was much different.
Furthermore, the fact that the harpsichord and string parts are
completely intertwined, and that the keyboard is merely a 'primus
inter pares' point into the direction of a very small string band.
In these performances three of the four concertos are played with
four violins; that should work but here the balance is rather
unsatisfying, especially as the ensemble mostly plays very loud.
In the Concerto in E no less than seven violins are used. What
is the reasoning behind this remains a mystery; the booklet doesn't
pay any attention to matters of performance practice. The result
is disastrous: the ensemble only produces a lot of noise, and
so does Francesco Cera, who needs to couple the manuals of his
harpsichord to make himself heard. Just by listening to the various
recordings of Bach's harpsichord concertos one has to conclude
that the balance between the keyboard and the strings is best
served by a performance with one instrument per part. This is
how Gustav Leonhardt in his recording of the complete harpsichord
concertos has scored his Leonhardt Consort, and Ottavio Dantone
has followed in his footsteps in his recent recording of four
concertos with his Accademia Bizantina.
Another mystery is the use of a 'violino di spalla', which is
played by Duilio Galfetti, the leader of the ensemble. Recently
much attention has been given to the 'violoncello (or viola) da
spalla' which, according to some musicians and musicologists,
is the instrument which Bach meant when he scored a part for the
cello. New Grove mentions the instrument, but there is no reference
to something like the 'violino di spalla'. I assume it is the
same instrument as the one I just referred to. But then, if it
is used to play the cello part, why is the traditional cello used
as well? It is one of the anomalies of this recording, I'm afraid.
But the scoring of the ensemble and the volume it produces aren't
the only things which are problematic here. Francesco Cera's performance
is very straightforward and rhythmically rigid: there is no place
for something like rubato which would make the performances much
more engrossing. But while doing too little in regard to rubato
Cera does too much in regard to ornamentation. There is really
no need to add a lot as Bach has written out most of what has
to be played. Cera obviously has different ideas: at the end of
the first movement of the Concerto in D, for instance, he turns
over a whole bin with additional notes.
Returning to the ensemble: it isn't only loud and aggressive,
it also fails to differentiate its articulation, and Diego Fasolis
chooses to largely ignore the dance rhythms. The first movement
of the Concerto in f minor comes off best in this regard.
The best way to characterise these performances is: much noise,
little expression. I really can't find any reason to recommend
this disc. And the record company should be embarrassed by misprinting
the name of the ensemble on the reverse of the tray: I Barocchisi.
Johan van Veen
Much noise, little expression - there is no reason to recommend
this disc ... see Full Review
from previous months Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the
discs reviewed. details We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to
which you refer.