Notes and Editorial Reviews
One finds here a nice combination of the strongest features of both these great artists: Harnoncourt’s feeling for the dynamic shades within the musical phrases and Leonhardt's unique rhythmic drive.
Being the son of a famous father isn't always easy. The sons of Johann Sebastian Bach knew all about that. Carl Philipp Emanuel told his father's first biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, that he and his older brother Wilhelm Friedemann "necessarily had to choose their own kind of style because they never would have matched their father in his style."
This disc gives an excellent opportunity to compare the styles of members of the Bach family. It starts and ends with double concertos by Johann Sebastian and in between we hear double concertos written by two of his sons, with a composition by his youngest son Johann Christian in the middle. That makes sense, as in many ways he was the one who moved more away from his father than the other two.
The disc starts with one of the most popular compositions of Johann Sebastian, the concerto for oboe, violin, strings and basso continuo. This is no original concerto, but a reconstruction of what is thought to be the original of the concerto best known in the scoring for two harpsichords with strings and basso continuo.
After that the concerto by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, written in the year of his death, shows big changes in the musical taste during the 18th century. Here we find a much more personal and emotional style, which is also a feature of his compositions for keyboard solo. His favourite keyboard instrument was the clavichord, and when he was improvising he sometimes let his tears flow, something one would never expect from his father. The combination of harpsichord and fortepiano in one concerto is remarkable. Even more so is the fact that they are treated equally. Can this perhaps be interpreted as a statement that the 'old-fashioned' harpsichord isn't inferior to the 'modern' fortepiano? That is certainly possible, considering the fact that Carl Philipp Emanuel at the end of his life acted as a strong defender of his father's style.
The next piece is by Johann Christian Bach, Johann Sebastian's youngest son. He moved literally far away from his father’s world; he went to Italy to study with Padre Martini, converted to Catholicism, and then travelled to London, where he became a key figure in English musical life. He organised - together with the viola da gamba virtuoso Carl Friedrich Abel - the 'Bach-Abel concerts', where the newest music from all over Europe was performed. Certainly many Sinfonia concertantes were played during these concerts, as this was one of the most prominent forms of the 'galant' style which spread over Europe. Many such were written, almost always in major keys, often with only two movements. Their main aim was to entertain, and give the audience nice melodies to enjoy. It shouldn't be overlooked, though, that even this kind of entertainment had a higher aim: the moral improvement of the audience.
Next comes Wilhelm Friedemann: he was Johann Sebastian's eldest - and without any doubt favourite - son, to whose musical education Bach spent a lot of time and energy. Of all Johann Sebastian's sons Wilhelm Friedemann stays closest to the style of his father. One wonders why. Perhaps he just didn't know which style to adopt. His sacred cantatas could easily be attributed to his father, but in his keyboard works he adopts a much more personal style, with strong reminiscences of the 'Empfindsamkeit'. The double concerto looks to follow the traditional pattern of the baroque concerto, but during the work all sorts of things happen which signify that it belongs to a different era. It is tempting to see the ambiguous character of this concerto as a reflection of the rather unstable character which is often ascribed to Wilhelm Friedemann. More likely this is simply a demonstration of his problems in figuring out which of the styles then in vogue suited him best.
The disc closes with another concerto by father Bach. This is especially popular in its original form as the concerto for two violins, strings and basso continuo in d minor (BWV 1043). There is no lack of expression here, but it is of an entirely different kind than in the concertos by the Bach sons: more formalistic, based on the general rules of affect and the rhetorics of the baroque.
The recordings all date from the 1960s, the early days of historical performance practice and the use of period instruments. It is hardly fair to compare these recordings with more recent ones, which are mostly better as far as the playing technique is concerned. Here the players of the trumpets and horns have problems playing tune all the time, and the string players use a lot more vibrato than their colleagues of today. But it is very good that these recordings are available again: I have always considered the recording of the works by the Bach sons as one of the best Leonhardt and Harnoncourt made. One finds here a nice combination of the strongest features of both these great artists: Harnoncourt’s feeling for the dynamic shades within the musical phrases and Leonhardt's unique rhythmic drive. The latter quality is impressively demonstrated in the concerto for two harpsichords by Johann Sebastian.
If there are things to criticise - apart from the technical shortcomings now and then - it is perhaps that the adagio of the concerto BWV 1062 is played more like an andante and could be a little slower. And the 'tempo di minuetto' from Johann Christian's Sinfonia concertante is a little too heavy. But in general these are fine recordings, which can be strongly recommended.
By the way: the references on the tray of this disc are not quite accurate. Only in the works of the Bach sons both orchestras play together. The first item is played by the Concentus Musicus, the last by the Leonhardt-Consort.
-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International