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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Piano Concertos – Volume 5
Concerto in A minor, Wq. 1 (1733) [16:22]
Concerto in D major, Wq. 45 (1778) [14:18]
Concerto in E minor, Wq. 15 (1745) [25:15]
Michael Rische (piano)
Berliner Barock Solisten
rec. 2017, Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin-Dahlen

Given my considerable enjoyment of his cello concertos and symphonies, I was surprised to find that these were the first keyboard concertos of CPE Bach that I had encountered. However, when I did some research, the reason became clear. While he wrote a substantial number of concertos for the keyboard - probably in excess of seventy - recordings to date have almost exclusively employed a harpsichord, fortepiano or similar. In 2013, Miklós Spányi completed a 20-disc series of the concertos for BIS, and these have garnered glittering reviews, but the instruments used are not for me. If there are any other recordings out there with his concertos performed on the modern piano, I couldn’t find them. That mystery is solved, then.

The Wq. numbering system for the CPE Bach catalogue groups together works of the same type, and begins with the keyboard concertos. It spans Wq. 1 to 47, and is chronological as far as I can tell. Certainly Wq. 1 is indicated in the booklet as his first, written in Leipzig at the same time as his father was composing the miracle that is his D minor concerto, BWV1052. Even as a first effort, it shows some of the vivacity and unpredictable rhythms that make his cello concertos and symphonies so striking, but in the end it doesn’t stay in the memory.

I’m surmising that the late D major concerto is placed second so that it separates the two minor key works. It is certainly a huge advance on Wq. 1, the middle movement Andantino quite dark in its textures, Stürm und Drang even. For me, the E minor concerto is the most interesting of the three, having more of the characteristics that I associate with this composer; it is described in the notes as “experimental”. That said, these three works don’t hold a candle to his cello concertos; churning out so many keyboard works as he did, doesn’t necessarily lend itself to consistent quality.

The performances are uniformly smooth and refined, but a little too uniform, I feel. Given I couldn’t compare them to other piano-led versions, I went to the BIS series, and heard a much more energetic and vivacious sound from the orchestra than that presented on this recording. I realise that one can’t simply mix and match two very different approaches, but I think some of the verve of the BIS recordings wouldn’t have gone astray here.

As you can see this is the fifth volume in this series, but the first to feature the Berlin ensemble; the previous four volumes employed the Leipzig Chamber Orchestra. Michael Cookson reviewed Volume 4 at the end of last year, and said good things about the music and the performers. There is no indication as to why the change was made, and certainly a quick listen through the Naxos Music Library didn’t suggest any great difference in style.

Michael Rische provides the booklet notes, and spends more time on musical analysis, and rather less on its history and context. I would have preferred the opposite, but it is likely that there is a limit to what is known about the works. Sound quality is very natural; the piano is caught very beautifully and the balance between it and the orchestra is ideal.

One oddity: the timings given here are those provided on the back cover, but they don’t correspond remotely to the overall disc duration, or the timings shown on my media player after ripping to my hard drive. Not at all important, but curious.

Given these are basically the only game in town for those wanting the modern piano, I would have liked to have been more positive.

David Barker

Previous review: Michael Cookson



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