C. P. E. BACH Harpsichord Concertos, Wq 43 Nos. 1–6 • Andreas Steier (hpd); Petra Müllejans (vn); dir; Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (period instruments) • HARMONIA MUNDI 902083/4 (2 CDs: 93:40)
Although his exact feelings are not recorded, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach must have been overjoyed when he left the employ of Frederic the Great to take up his new position as music director of the five principal churches of Hamburg. This was in 1767; Bach had just endured 30 years of theRead more worst kind of musical drudgery at the court in Berlin. Now he was free to compose (and publish) music to his own liking, unfettered by the demands of a flute-playing monarch. After two years of very intense work, Bach completed his Sei concerti per il cembalo concertato, a sort of “look-me-over” collection designed as a performance vehicle for the composer. The choice of the concerto format ran contrary to the usual marketing strategy, since amateurs would not normally be attracted to this kind of material. The added expense of engraving orchestral parts made the task of finding a publisher even more difficult. In 1771, Bach secured the services of the Berlin printer Winter, who had published Bach’s treatise Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen in 1762. Winter died a short time after entering into an agreement with Bach, and Bach was forced to wrangle with Winter’s widow until she finally consented to complete the project. The resulting publication attracted notable subscribers from all over Europe: Burney in London, Agricola and Kirnberger in Berlin, J. G. Müthel in Riga, and Baron van Swieten in Vienna. The Sei concerti would be followed by the four orchestral sinfonias in 1780, and the Sonatas for Connoisseurs and Amateurs in 1786. Clearly, Emanuel Bach had the same sort of encyclopedic ambitions that had driven his father to publish the various parts of the Clavier-Übung some 50 years before.
The music is Emanuel Bach at his most expansive and inventive—exuberant, multifaceted, even a bit capricious. It’s as if a heavy burden had been lifted from the composer’s shoulders, allowing his imagination to take flight. It puzzles me why Emanuel Bach is so little appreciated, even in this day and age of the Internet. Setting aside the relative merits of the two composers and the specious question of “greatness,” how is it that Sebastian Bach has nearly 7,000 recordings to his credit (ArkivMusic), while Emanuel Bach’s total barely reaches 400? It seems to me that Emanuel’s tuneful, dramatic compositional style—termed Empfindsamer Stil, or “sentimental style”—would have many more followers than it does. Perhaps the present two-CD set will rectify that situation.
The recording brings together Andreas Steier, the leading German harpsichordist of his generation, and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, one of the best period-instrument bands around. They play the music with precision and abandon—a seeming contradiction, but not really, if you know the music. I was especially gratified to see Steier returning to his roots—he began his career as the continuo player of Musica Antiqua Köln, but left the group in 1986 to concentrate on the fortepiano. He plays a magnificent Haas copy built in 2004 by Anthony Sidey and Frédéric Bal. The recorded sound is spacious and realistic. The booklet includes an exhaustive essay on C. P. E. Bach and his music by Steier, along with several full-color session photos—a nice touch. A major release that easily replaces my previous favorite with Bob van Asperen and Melante Amsterdam.
DisappointingOctober 1, 2013By Robert S. See All My Reviews"Andreas Staier is drowned out by the Freiburger Barockorchester in this recording to the point of being virtually inaudible. The parts where he is heard at the loudest sound as if that should have been the quieter parts of these compositions. I am wondering if there was a missing microphone for the harpsichord? This stands in sharp contrast to the recordings of Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert with their recordings of Bach Harpsichord Concertos."Report Abuse
DisappointedFebruary 13, 2012By Peter K. (Vancouver, BC)See All My Reviews"I have exactly the same experience and reaction as that of the previous reviewer. The harpsichord is so drowned out by everything else that I was not even able to recognize that these are harpsichord concertos, let alone appreciate and enjoy the music. Not believing my initial reactions, I listened again after a few weeks and still came to the same conclusion. I wouldn't blame the engineer, though, as this may be what these pieces actually sound like in performance. The fact is that, harpsichord concertos just don't work. The weak sound of the harpsichord has no hope of standing up to the sound of even a small orchestra, let alone one with such robust horns. This is the first CPE Bach disc I have encountered for a very long time that is boring, despite CPE's compositional ingenuity and the marvelous playing of all involved, and it is boring because the orchestra/harpsichord balance prevents me from enjoying the music. I don't quite understand all the hype about it."Report Abuse
Steier is sublime, but the engineer was asleep!January 28, 2012By Stephen B. (REGINA, SK)See All My Reviews"Andreas Staier is sublime and this disc is worth purchasing just to listen to the continuo alone, although praise too for the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra with their wonderful sense of timing and musical interpretation. Then you may ask, why the three stars? Mostly for the relatively poor sound mixing. Right from the start poor Andreas Staier's continuo often seems to languish in the background, seemingly overwhelmed by the enthusiastic horns...... The lack of recording emphasis on Steier made me wonder whether this was a Harpsichord Concerto or not! I listened to this CD again after a two week break and my feelings remain the same. The horns overpower to the point of annoyance. I regret buying this CD."Report Abuse