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C. P. E. Bach: Cello Concertos / Wallfisch, Scottish Ensemble

C.p.e. Bach / Wallfisch / Scottish Ensemble
Release Date: 01/12/2010 
Label:  Nimbus   Catalog #: 5848  
Composer:  Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
Performer:  Raphael Wallfisch
Conductor:  Jonathan Morton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

I hadn’t heard Raphael Wallfisch in such early music before, though Rosemary Westwell’s description of his recent performance of J.S. Bach’s Cello Suites as ‘a unique and splendid event’ (see review) led me to have high expectations - expectations which, by and large, were not disappointed.

A small initial black mark to Nimbus for giving only the Wotquienne numbers of these concertos, without also giving the equivalent H catalogue numbers. Small matter in this case, since these are C.P.E.’s only three works of their kind. The concertos also exist in versions with solo flute and solo keyboard, but that’s a topic for another day, except to
Read more note that there is no clear evidence which came first.

They have hitherto been represented in the catalogue by an excellent performance on BIS by Hidemi Suzuki and the Bach Collegium of Japan, best known for their recordings of Bach senior’s cantatas (BISCD807) and at budget price by a recommendable Naxos recording with Tim Hugh, the Bournemouth Sinfonietta and Richard Studt (8.553298). There’s also a good super-budget 2-CD set on Virgin Veritas, a Radio 3 Building a Library Choice with Anner Bylsma, the OAE and Gustav Leonhardt (5 61794 2, coupled with five Symphonies Wq182/5 and 183/1-4).

If you just want one example of C.P.E.’s Cello Concertos, look no further than the CD of Concerti Brillanti, featuring a performance of Wq172 (H439) with works by Graf, Hasse and Michael Haydn which I made Recording of the Month last year (BMG/Sony 88697 11997-2, Jan Vogler; Munich Chamber Orchestra/Reinhard Goebel - see review).

I compared the Vogler/Goebel performance of the A major concerto favourably with an older recording by Miklós Perényi and János Rolla, finding him much more sprightly in the first movement, where direct comparison could be made, and equally lively in the other movements where choice of cadenzas partly clouds the issue. Vogler takes 6:12 for that opening Allegro, a speed which I still find absolutely right, Perényi a much more sluggish 6:51. Like Bylsma on Virgin, Wallfisch on the new recording falls exactly between the two at 6:31. Heard on its own, his tempo makes excellent sense, sounding a little deliberate only with the Vogler recording in one’s mind.

I still prefer Vogler’s slightly brisker tempo for this movement; Hugh and Studt would seem to agree - they even shave a second or two off his timing, but I thought them just a little too fast here. Not having Hugh’s version to hand, I downloaded it in lossless (flac) format from passionato.com. At £5.99, that’s comparable with the price of the CD, but it’s also available for £1 less in very good 320k mp3 sound from passionato or from classicsonline.com.

For many listeners, the slow movements of these concertos will be decisive, since C.P.E. was the exponent in chief of the emfindsamer Stil, the affective style, having emphasised in his Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen, written almost exactly contemporaneously with the first versions of these concertos, that the chief aim of music was to touch the emotions. Tim Hugh certainly goes for the emotions in his account of the Largo middle movement: perhaps he’s just a little too inclined to wring out every last drop of Empfindsamkeit, but I found him both affective and effective. Wallfisch also brings out the emotional content of this movement very effectively; I found little to choose between his performance and Hugh’s.

Vogler takes the movement at a rather faster pace than either of them and employs a shorter cadenza, thereby subtracting a little from the work’s emotional heart, but not to an extent that I found at all disconcerting. Reinhard Goebel is, of course, noted for fast tempi and it was probably he who made the pace in the Largo. All three follows their accounts of the slow movement with a virtuoso performance of the finale.

I could happily live with any of the three versions of the A major, then - Wallfisch, Bylsma or Hugh - but Perényi now goes off to the charity shop, while Vogler retains pride of place, chiefly for the couplings, all world-premiere recordings.

Wallfisch also offers more lively tempi in the a minor than Perényi - the opening movement considerably faster at 9:07 against 11:07, with Hugh finding the middle ground at 10:12. Only in the B-flat concerto does he take a little longer over the opening movement: 9:14 against Perényi’s 8:20 and Hugh’s 7:33. Wallfisch does sound a little leisurely in this movement, heard directly after Perényi or Hugh, but I never found him as sluggish as Perényi frequently sounds elsewhere.

The new Wallfisch/Morton CD is directly competitive with the Hugh/Studt version on Naxos. There’s very little to choose between the performances apart from the slightly greater weight which the Naxos version places on the slow movements. Both are well recorded - the Nimbus slightly more fully than the Naxos which, at least in my download transfer, needed a slight volume boost to sound well. The Naxos has the price advantage but the Nimbus is available at a special price direct from MusicWeb International and it has slightly more to recommend it in other respects. Both offer over an hour of attractive music; though I must admit to a degree of listener fatigue after hearing two and-a-third recordings of them, each heard on its own is a delight. The notes which accompany the Nimbus recording are very good.

I can’t conclude this review without referring you to another, equally effective recording by Raphael Wallfisch, of very different music. I made the reissue of his recording of the Martinů Cello Concertos and the Concertino the Reissue of the Month in my September, 2009, Download Roundup: an excellent bargain on Chandos CHAN10547X in whichever format you choose.

-- Brian Wilson, MusicWeb International Read less

Works on This Recording

Concerto for Cello no 1 in A minor, Wq 170/H 432 by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
Performer:  Raphael Wallfisch (Cello)
Conductor:  Jonathan Morton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Ensemble
Period: Classical 
Written: ?1750; Berlin, Germany 
Concerto for Cello no 2 in B flat major, Wq 171/H 436 by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
Performer:  Raphael Wallfisch (Cello)
Conductor:  Jonathan Morton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Ensemble
Period: Classical 
Written: ?1751; Berlin, Germany 
Concerto for Cello no 3 in A major, Wq 172/H 439 by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
Performer:  Raphael Wallfisch (Cello)
Conductor:  Jonathan Morton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Ensemble
Period: Classical 
Written: ?1753; Berlin, Germany 

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