C.P.E. Bach: The Complete Keyboard Concertos, Vol. 17

Miklós Spányi

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C.P.E. Bach: The Complete Keyboard Concertos, Vol. 17 Review

by Uncle Dave Lewis

Miklós Spányi continues apace with his series for BIS of all 52 of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's keyboard concertos; this is C.P.E. Bach: The Keyboard Concertos, Vol. 17. The series began with Vol. 1 way back in 1995; however, with the seventeenth volume it must be nearing its conclusion as the Concerto in F major, H. 471 (Wq. 42), and Concerto in E flat major, H. 469 (Wq. 41), are works that date from the early Hamburg period, the final phase of C.P.E. Bach's career. After putting in a three-decades-long tenure at Frederick the Great's palace in Berlin, Bach finally managed to find upward mobility in filling the position left vacant in Hamburg upon the death of Georg Philipp Telemann in 1767. Concerto in F major, H. 471 (Wq. 42), was premiered at one of Bach's earliest public concerts in Hamburg, given a year after he had arrived there and had a chance to settle into the responsibilities of his job as cantor of the Johanneum. Later published in 1772 as the first of the Sei Concerti, this particular F major concerto is interesting as it is not in Bach's usual manner; its Mannheim "rockets" (both upward and downward), lengthy trills, and genteel directness of scoring reveal it as a child of the style galant, not wholly free of Bach's patented eccentricities but sounding closer to his youngest brother than himself. It's certainly pleasant, but not the most comfortable-sounding idiom for Bach. Perhaps Bach wanted to show the Hamburg public that he, despite being something of an "old dog," could perform some new tricks, not that they cared, as the audience in Hamburg was fairly conservative anyway. The Concerto in E flat major, H. 469 (Wq. 41), however, is an entirely different can of worms. A vibrant, highly turbulent, and distinctively original work that no one but Bach could have produced, it is one of his very best keyboard concertos and has never before been recorded. This was the second concerto Bach rolled out in Hamburg and it is believed to have been modeled on a solo concerto Bach composed in Berlin; if the response to his first offering was lukewarm, perhaps he decided to knock their socks off at the second encounter. The program is filled out by the Concerto in C Minor, H. 441 (Wq. 31), an early Berlin concerto for some reason not included before in this series; it is a relatively familiar work, recorded numerous times. The F major concerto, too, has been recorded just once before, by Bob van Asperen. This is played on harpsichord, whereas the other two are performed on a tangent piano.

This volume has some of the same virtues and same drawbacks that the first 16 entries in the series also had, the main one being the relationship between the solo instrument and the ripieno, which may reflect acoustical reality but is simply not comfortable for listening in a recorded sense. The keyboard is uniformly below the band and one's ear is constantly shifting gears between the two elements. Thankfully this recording is free from the other major disadvantage one occasionally encounters with Spányi; incomprehensible choices of tempo. However, the virtues are significant ones and in this particular instance the main work featured is both the rarest and most interesting item on the program. One further inequity: although C.P.E. Bach: The Keyboard Concertos, Vol. 17, has an especially attractive front cover image, the image on the back of the booklet is one of the worst examples of photo editing you are ever likely to see. You win some, you lose some.

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