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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Symphony in e minor (Wq 178 / H 653) [11:14] Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Concerto for harpsichord, strings and bc in d minor (BWV 1052) [22:30] Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH
Concerto for cello, strings and bc in a minor (Wq 170 / H 432) [24:44] Johann Sebastian BACH
Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes (BWV 76): Sinfonia, arr for violin, cello and bc [2:59]
Elin Gabrielsson (violin), Johannes Rostamo (cello), Luca Guglielmi (harpsichord)
Orfeus Barock Stockholm
rec. 2018, Grünewaldsalen, Stockholm ALBA ABCD448 [61:31]
One of the features of the late baroque period is the solo concerto. It emerged in Italy around 1700 and especially the concertos of Antonio Vivaldi, many of which were printed, attracted much attention and inspired composers across Europe to write pieces for a solo instrument with an accompaniment of strings. Johann Sebastian Bach was one of them: he thoroughly studied concertos by Vivaldi and other Italian composers, which resulted in a number of arrangements for harpsichord or organ. Soon he started to write solo concertos himself, such as the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, with solo parts for harpsichord, transverse flute and violin. In addition he composed concertos for violin, oboe and oboe d'amore. Some of them have been preserved, others are only known through later adaptations for harpsichord, which were to be performed at the concerts of the Collegium Musicum in Zimmermann's Coffee House in Leipzig.
His sons also embraced the genre of the solo concerto, but stylistically those are mostly quite different from those of their father. The role of the soloist is expanded; he is often more than just a primus inter pares. That is also due to the fact that such concertos were often written for a specific virtuoso, who was not necessarily a member of a chapel. Concertos from the time of Bach's sons also bear witness to the growing popularity and dissemination of instruments, such as the chalumeau and the cello. In his early years, Johann Sebastian Bach did not write any concertante music for the cello. Even in the oeuvre of Telemann, who was open to new developments like no other, this instrument plays a minor role. The fact that Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach composed three virtuosic cello concertos shows that it was becoming a fixed part of music life, and that its role was not confined anymore to that of a basso continuo instrument.
The present disc brings together concertos by father and son Bach. Johann Sebastian is represented by one of his most beloved harpsichord concertos, the Concerto in d minor (BWV 1052). It is often assumed that it is the transcription of a concerto for violin. Not by Luca Guglielmo who, in his liner-notes, states that this view "is to be dismissed in the realm of musicologists [sic] rich fantasy and well known [sic] need to express their opinion". Therefore he believes that the harpsichord concerto is an arrangement of movements from cantatas BWV 146 and 188, whereas those who believe that the concerto was first intended for the violin, think that these cantata movements are arrangements of a concerto from Bach's time in Köthen.
Whatever is the case, it is one of Bach's great concertos, which can become a bit tedious, though, if it is not played really well by both the soloist and the ensemble. Fortunately, here we get a compelling performance by Guglielmi and Orfeus Barock Stockholm. It is a bit odd, though, that Guglielmi decided to include the cadenza which Johannes Brahms wrote for the last movement.
CPE Bach's cello concertos were probably written for the Bohemian cellist Ignaz Frantisek Mara. Ernst Ludwig Gerber, in his Historisch-biographisches Lexikon der Tonkünstler (1790-92), wrote about him that "in his youth he was an excellent soloist on his instrument, and his tone and execution were extremely impressive". He entered the service of Frederick's court in 1742 as a chamber musician. He also composed concertos and sonatas for his own instrument. CPE Bach's concertos are written in the ritornello form which had been developed by Vivaldi. The Concerto in a minor is the most dramatic and reflects the Sturm und Drang, which is so typical of Bach's idiom. Technically this and the other two concertos are quite demanding and offer the chance to play a cadenza. In his performance Johannes Rostamo takes a comparable amount of freedom in his cadenza in the first movement of CPE Bach's concerto as Gugliemo in JS Bach's harpsichord concerto. In the booklet he writes: "Since I, as soloist, function as a link between the history and today - and to emphasize my personal connection to this piece - I was inspired to write the cadenza of the first movement combining the elements by Carl Philipp Emanuel with motives by favourite band Radiohead, one of the most innovative and honest bands of our time. I hope you enjoy it!" I have to disappoint him: I did not. The result is rather strange and musically unsatisfying. I don't see any reason for a lenghty passage in pizzicato. This is all the more disappointing, as overall I quite appreciated his performance of this concerto. He is very much part of the ensemble, of which he is also the artistic director. He acts more as a primus inter pares than as the virtuosic soloist. He and his ensemble show a good feeling for CPE Bach's idiom.
That also comes to the fore in CPE Bach's Symphony in e minor. The sudden changes in tempo and character within this piece come off to perfection. This is one of the lesser-known symphonies by Emanuel Bach. An earlier version of this work is scored for strings. The disc ends with a piece by Johann Sebastian, as a kind of bonus. Guglielmi writes that during the recording it "was performed here as a sort of 'Hommage to a friendship' ... It was an occasion to show the common point of view in term of musicianship and music interpretation of four Orfeus members: Elin Gabrielsson (leader) at the violin, Johannes Rostamo (principal cello and artistic director) at the cello concertato, Daniel Holst at the cello continuo and Luca Guglielmi (guest soloist and conductor) at the harpsichord." This Sinfonia is the opening of the second part of Cantata BWV 76. It was originally scored for oboe d'amore, viola da gamba and basso continuo. Later Bach arranged it for organ and as such it appears as the first movement in the Trio sonata in e minor (BWV 528). It receives a nice performance here.
Orfeus Barock Stockholm was founded in 2015. This is its first recording. I would have liked it to present itself with a less conventional programme. The two main works are very well-known and available in quite a number of recordings. Fortunately we also get a less common symphony by CPE Bach. I hope to hear more from this ensemble, as I like its sound and its lively style of playing. The cadenzas are disappointing and prevent me from unequivocally recommending this disc. However, if you don't care much about this aspect, this disc is well worth being investigated.