Andreas Staier / Petra Müllejans / Freiburger Barockorchester

C.P.E. Bach: Sei Concerti per il Cembalo Concertato, Wq. 43

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The six Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach harpsichord concertos recorded here by German historical-performance specialist Andreas Staier were written in the early 1770s. They were probably among the most popular of the composer's 50 or so keyboard concertos, having been published with the promise that they were suitable for amateurs to play. From the evidence here it doesn't sound as though they're particularly easy to play, but C.P.E. did at least bookend the set with two fairly conventional three-movement mid-Classical concertos, so as to ease the buyer into his usual wilder experiments. And there are plenty of those on display, from harmonic experiments to movements that flow into the next without interruption. The slow movement of the Concerto No. 3 in E flat major uses the third relationship to the work key that Haydn and Beethoven explored only decades later, and perhaps Haydn had this in mind when he said attentive listeners would recognize his debt to C.P.E. Bach. There are some pungent harmonic shifts, but really in these mostly major-key works it's formal surprises that stick in your mind the most: sample again the third concerto, where material from the opening movement begins to interpenetrate the slow movement, and the odd fantasy-like structure of the Concerto No. 4. Staier conveys the sense of surprise in all this, playing a modern replica of a 1734 Hamburg harpsichord by the maker Albrecht Haas. Its bright tone is attractive, but the instrument doesn't quite jump out in its entrances against the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra under Petra Müllejans. Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile contribution to the discography of the composer called the "serious humorist."

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