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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Symphony in G major, Wq 182/1 (H 657) [10:17]
Symphony in B flat, Wq 182/2 (H 658) [9:15]
Symphony in C, Wq 182/3 (H 659) (1773) [10:17]
Symphony in A, Wq 182/4 (H 660) (1773) [11:54]
Symphony in B minor, Wq 182/5 (H 661) (1773) [11:17]
Symphony in E, Wq 182/6 (H 662) (1773) [8:57]
Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
rec. 28-31 August 2013, Snellman Hall, Kokkola.
ALBA ABCD 374 [63:11]

This is an excellent recording and performance of the six String Symphonies Wq 182 by C.P.E. Bach. The first notes grab you, and the extremes of contrast from the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra create by turns symphonic tumult and the lightest of finesse. The strings are given some rhythmic edge with a harpsichord continuo as is the tradition with this period of music and with most recordings, the balance of which is not over-present, enhancing rather than distracting.

There are indeed a few other recorded versions of C.P.E. Bach’s String Symphonies around. That with the Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Chamber Orchestra conducted by Hartmut Haenchen (see review) has been a reliable option for some time, with sharp dynamic contrasts and a rhythmic crispness emphasised by an arguably over-present continuo harpsichord. The Naxos label has a decent set on 8.553285 with the Capella Istropolitana conducted by Christian Benda which has if anything a lighter touch and a bouncy, chamber music feel. One of the more recent recordings is that directed by Wolfram Christ on the Haenssler Classic label CD98.637. With a fortepiano continuo and superb musicianship from the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra this one is hard to beat.

The snappy pace, technical prowess and stylish élan of the performances on this Alba release put it into the top rank of recordings in this repertoire, and if 5.1 multichannel SACD sound is the clincher then this CD can easily top your list of choices, and will never let you down. From top to bottom the sound is excellent, with refined smoothness from the upper strings which can dig deep when required, right down to satisfyingly toothsome resonance from the basses. If you are in any doubt about this have a listen to the Adagio of Wq 182 No. 3, which has some startling bass interjections which wouldn’t sound out of place in Beethoven’s own Gewitter, Sturm. As the booklet notes indicate, these symphonies represent C.P.E. Bach’s Empfindsam style at its very best, which is to say high-octane 18th century music whose drama is far removed from Galant tameness. If you don’t know these pieces or even if you do, I strongly suggest you treat yourself to this recording.

Dominy Clements