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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 (1717–23) [10.20]
Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042 (1717–23) [15.25]
Violin Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052R [20.02]
Concerto for Violin and Oboe in D minor, BWV 1060 (arr. 2 violins) [12.27]
Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin)
Serge Zimmermann (violin: BWV 1060)
Berliner Barock Solisten
rec. 2017 Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Piano Concertos - Volume 4
Piano Concerto in A minor, Wq.1 (1733) [16.22]
Piano Concerto in D major, Wq.45 (1778) [14.18]
Piano Concerto in E minor, Wq.15 (1745) [25.15]
Michael Rische (piano)
Berliner Barock Solisten
rec. Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin

Recently released on Hänssler Classics is a pair of concerto albums performed by Berliner Barock Solisten. The first release consists of Johann Sebastian Bach violin concertos featuring soloist Frank Peter Zimmermann and the second contains piano concertos by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel, the fifth volume of the series played by soloist Michael Rische.   

Founded in 1995 by Rainer Kussmaul, the Berliner Barock Solisten incorporates members of the Berliner Philharmoniker and leading figures in Berlin’s early music scene. The performance approach of Berliner Barock Solisten is to play works of the 17th and 18th centuries on period, though modernised, instruments, with metal strings, although using bows from various periods, depending on the work being performed. The number of players usually falls in the range of 9 to 16 players. On these Hänssler recordings the orchestra comprises of around 12/14 players including a harpsichord in the J.S. Bach concertos and two horns in the C.P.E. Bach Wq.45 (the booklet notes erroneously list the horns as being employed on Wq.15).

From 1717, during his time as kapellmeister for Prince Leopold of Saxony-Anhalt at Cöthen, J.S. Bach provided a regular supply of works for the court orchestra. As well as composing the Brandenburg Concertos and Orchestral Suites in Cöthen, Bach wrote a number of concertos for various solo instruments which are likely to have included the Violin Concertos, BWV 1041 and BWV 1042. From 1723 as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, Bach wrote mainly sacred choral music; however, these requirements changed in 1729 when he became director of the Collegium Musicum, the Leipzig university's student ensemble, allocating time to composing more orchestral music. This output included several harpsichord concertos that were transcriptions of melody instruments from his time at Cöthen; the originals are now lost. Included here are two of these Concertos BWV 1052R (a reconstruction) and the Double Violin Concerto, BWV 1060 that, according to the essay, is believed to have been written for two violins or violin and oboe.     

For the J.S. Bach concertos, soloist Frank Peter Zimmermann is using metal strings on his stunningly toned violin the Stradivarius ‘Lady Inchiquin’ (1711). Clearly conscious of the insights he has gained in historically-informed performance practice, Zimmermann provides appealing and effortlessly controlled readings. His dazzling virtuosity is contrasted in the exhilarating Allegros by mellow and beguiling performances of these gorgeous, if rather understated, slow movements. In the Double Concerto, BWV 1060 Frank Peter’s partnership with his son Serge Zimmermann is a fruitful one and displays the lovely writing to significant effect.

Of the competing recordings of the violin concertos in the catalogue I relish the period instrument accounts from Giuliano Carmignola directing the Concerto Köln from the baroque violin on Archiv Produktion. Carmignola has selected five Violin Concertos which feature the celebrated pair BWV 1041 and BWV 1042, the renowned concerto for Two Violins, BWV 1043 - also known as the Double Concerto - and the Harpsichord Concertos BWV 1056 and BWV 1052 arranged as Violin Concertos.

In 1733 J.S. Bach’s second surviving eldest son, the teenage Carl Philipp Emanuel, who had been studying law at Leipzig University, wrote his first keyboard concerto the Concerto in A minor, Wq.1. Soon turning his attention away from law to music during the years 1738/68, Emanuel was in the employment of Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia (who later became Frederick the Great) at the Prussian Court in Berlin. During this time, Emanuel in 1745 wrote his Concerto in E minor, Wq.15 regarded by Michael Rische as “by far the most experimental of all his keyboard concertos.” Following the death of his godfather Georg Philipp Telemann, Emanuel was appointed to the court of Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia at Hamburg, serving between 1768/88. In 1778, whilst at Hamburg, Emanuel composed the Concerto in D major, Wq.45 written more in the gallant style with its orchestration augmented by a pair of horns. Emanuel was regarded as a composer whose works could be said to bridge the music of J.S. Bach and Mozart; hearing his progressive works soon after their composition must have been a breath-taking, if rather unnerving, experience for their first audiences. Despite valuable advocacy by pianist Mikhail Pletnev’s successful 1998 Berlin release of Sonatas & Rondos on Deutsche Grammophon, Emanuel’s works in general remain shamefully neglected on the concert stage and are certainly deserving of a wider circulation.

For these C.P.E. Bach concertos, soloist Michael Rische is using a Steinway Model D concert grand that produces a most engaging sound. With abundant perception Rische demonstrates a remarkable command of dynamics, and produces a wealth of tone colour and no shortage of charm and tension when appropriate, too. These are striking interpretations from Rische that feel entirely instinctive yet are gloriously refined, conveying an alluring measure of poetic feeling.

Mightily impressive, the Berliner Barock Solisten provides sterling support of a fresh, rather spontaneous, feeling, with especially splendid unity and no shortage of character. Conspicuous and highly attractive, too, is the additional colour provided by the horns in the Concerto in D major, Wq.45. Both albums are recorded in the renowned acoustic of Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin/Dahlem with a greatly appealing sound quality, being remarkably clear and well balanced. These are impressively presented concerto releases, both containing pleasingly informative booklet notes written by Jens Markowsky (J.S. Bach) and Michael Rische (C.P.E. Bach).

The Berliner Barock Solisten excels with these winning period informed concerto recordings of Bach father and son. Both soloists Frank Peter Zimmermann and Michael Rische are on magnificent form, playing devotedly, and benefit from the excellent sound quality of the Jesus-Christus-Kirche.

Michael Cookson



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