Notes and Editorial Reviews
C. P. E. BACH
Wq 174–75, 178–81
Christian Zacharias, cond; CO de Lausanne
MDG 9401824 (SACD: 68:49)
Students and fans of C. P. E. Bach will rejoice in this recording of six of his short but feisty and innovative symphonies from the late 1700s. Although the performances aren’t quite as dynamic or lively as those by Hartmut Haenchen with the C. P. E. Bach Chamber Orchestra (Berlin Classics) or Gustav Leonhardt with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (Virgin), they are certainly beautifully phrased and well articulated. The
movements, in particular, have a lovely sense of repose that Haenchen does not always achieve.
As the liner notes explain, the three-movement concert symphony began in Crown Prince Frederick’s small court orchestra. What the notes don’t explain is that it was essentially an outgrowth of the tripartite “overture” style developed by both French and German composers. This may explain C. P. E. Bach’s penchant for linking movements, something that was certainly ahead of its time, but it’s interesting to note that when other composers such as Haydn and Mozart began to emulate this style, they usually wrote three completely separate movements, thus un-linking the music. But, of course, there’s a lot more to Bach’s music here than just linked movements. The harmonic audacity (for its time), angular melodic structure (
ahead of its time), and quirky pauses in the flow of the music (copied to some extent by Haydn, but largely unique to him) make his music much more than museum pieces. One example among many of his audacity and originality: listen to the agitated string figures in the first movement of the Symphony Wq 178, with their frequent and audacious upward key changes. They sound almost identical to the music with which Gluck introduces his “storm” music in the first scene of
Iphigénie en Tauride.
To be honest, I’m surprised that C. P. E. Bach’s music isn’t programmed more often in modern-day symphony concerts. It certainly holds up well and, in fact, makes a better complement to any 20th-century works that may also be in the same concert.
This is one of those cases where saying little about a disc actually says a lot. Any attempt to over-analyze this music or over-praise the performances would be futile, since this is primarily an auditory experience. Nevertheless, as I have tried to make clear, these are very good performances of some truly outstanding music.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley