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Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782)
Symphonies, Op. 6 (publ. 1769)– No. 2 in E flat [12’03]; No. 6 in G minor. Harpsichord Concerto in G, Op. 13 No. 4 (1777) [13’36].
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)

Flute Concerto in D minor, Wq22 (1747) [22’04].
Raphael Alpermann (harpsichord); Christoph Huntgeburth (flute)
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/Stephan Mai.
Rec. Teldec Studio, Berlin, in October 2002. DDD


The first movement of J. C. Bach’s Symphony in E flat, Op. 6 No. 2 might come as something of a surprise if you are expecting the ‘London’ Bach at his sunniest. It begins with an Adagio that can best be described as ‘tentative’ – in fact it goes a long way to explaining the structure of this disc, for it sounds like a curious mix between J. C. and C. P. E. Bach. J. C.’s Op. 6 was written for the series of subscription concerts he founded with Carl Friedrich Abel. Interestingly Peter Wollny’s booklet note questions the authorship of this work – perhaps with justification, going on aural evidence alone. The energetic Allegro molto second movement is more like the J. C. Bach we all know and love – jubilant and bursting with life, it is given an involving performance here, robust from all departments and with positively brazen brass.

The ‘modernist’ side of the composer (whosoever he may be) surfaces again in the Allegretto, with its pizzicato-obsession. The dramatic gestures of the Minuet and Trio (prefaced by a very audible sniff from Mai – not the only occurrence of this habit!) point to a music of contrasts; the finale Presto acts as a breath of fresh air, hustling and bustling away.

The G minor Symphony (Op. 6 No. 6) is of overtly ‘Sturm und Drang’ bent. The first movement is highly dramatic, with a prevalence of string tremolandi and frequent explosive fortes. The writing for low horns adds real depth (not to mention menace) to the sound. This dynamism is to find its logical conclusion in outright aggression in the finale (making the very conclusion – I won’t spoil it – all the more surprising and effective). The Andante più tosto adagio, the most extended movement of the entire disc (8’34) with its expressive, sighing arpeggios, forms effective contrast. There is a real feeling of shape in this performance, just as there is fire to the Allegro molto finale.

The Harpsichord Concerto in B flat is one of six published in 1777. The vivacious first movement carries the weight of the argument, prefiguring the Classical concerto model in its working of themes. Raphael Alpermann is the sensitive (especially in the second movement) soloist, his passage-work ever spot-on. He can also be playful when required though. The finale is a set of variations on the Scottish folksong, ‘The Yellow-hair’d Laddie’ that includes some glittering finger-work along the way.

C. P E. Bach’s Flute Concerto was, until recently, known in its incarnation for harpsichord. The work also appears on Feinstein’s excellent Black Box disc, along with two other flute concertos by this composer (review). If anything, Huntgeburth and the Berlin group are even more impressive than Feinstein. The Berliners play robustly (indeed at the outset of the finale, so much so one wonders how any solo flute can hope to match them!); dynamic terracing is really quite cheeky. Huntgeburth copes well with the tricky ornamentation though some may find his tone over-breathy. It is the middle movement (‘Un poco andante’) that is the expressive summit of the piece, exploring wide emotive territory (the stabbing orchestral chords around 3’50ff are really quite shocking).

A real success here, then, from all angles. The recording is exemplary, the performances ever involving. Strongly recommended. Just one small point – why does the cover only give ‘J. C. Bach Symphonies & Concertos’ and omit any mention of the fascinating C. P. E. Bach concerto?.

Colin Clarke

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