The 20 symphonies of C.P.E. Bach have been performed fairly often, but to have an entire concert or recording (the present release, recorded live in London in 2014, represents both) devoted to a group of them is rare. The symphonies date both from the earlier part of Bach's career in Berlin and the later phase in Hamburg, where he composed works in an explicitly difficult style at the request of Baron van Swieten in Vienna, patron as well to both Haydn and Mozart. In fact, the earlier works are nearly as thorny, and hearing five of the symphonies together brings home unusually well how radical they are, how the experimental quality of C.P.E.'s work extended well beyond keyboard sonatas and other more intimate genres. The Symphony in D major, Wq. 183/1 (tracks 1-3), is from the earlier set and is a good example; in the first movement, listeners literally are kept in the dark as to the key for much of the first movement. There are elements of the so-called sturm und drang movement in several of the symphonies, not just the one in a minor key, but the Symphony in B minor, Wq. 182/5 (tracks 7-9) is the most extreme in its emotionalism. The performances from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Rebecca Miller are excellent, with a good-sized group of period instruments used to produce a somewhat rough sound. The tempos are quick and the accents strong, emphasizing the careening harmonic corners in Bach's music and generally putting across its unsettled, radical quality. Highly recommended.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Symphony in D major, Wq. 183/1|
|Symphony in A major, Wq. 182/4|
|Symphony in B minor, Wq. 182/5|
|Symphony in F major, Wq. 183/3|
|Symphony in E flat major, Wq. 179|