The booklet notes to this release make interesting reading. American
fortepianist Susan Alexander-Max reveals that this was initially
intended to be an album dedicated to the music of Johann Christian
Bach. J.C. Bach was the youngest of J.S. Bach's surviving sons
and was probably more famous and popularly successful than the
rest of his brothers put together. After extending his education
in Italy he established himself as “the London
Bach”. He won fame throughout Europe as a leading exponent of the new and fashionable gallant style of
music, sweeping aside the fussiness of the Baroque period with
a sleek new Classicism. It helped that he was also a keyboard
virtuoso – hardly surprising given that he would have heard his
clan of older siblings playing the 48 while he was still in
as The Music Collection rehearsed what had always been thought
to be two of J.C. Bach's Op.7 concertos for keyboard for the
recording, doubts began to set in about their provenance. Putting
aside the difference in instrumentation – the addition of a
viola which is absent in the Op.13 concertos – there was something
about the music that “did not feel or sound like Johann Christian”.
A little digging revealed that these two concertos have been
recently and reliably attributed to a different Bach: to Johann
Christoph Friedrich Bach, three years J.C. Bach's senior and,
like their older half brother Carl Philipp Emanuel, a court
musician in Germany.
Music Collection – founded by Alexander-Max for the promotion
of 18th and early 19th Century fortepiano
repertoire – recorded the J.C.F. Bach concertos anyway; they
bookend the J.C. Bach concertos, making for an attractive program
of contrasting styles. All four concertos are certainly pleasing.
Much of the interest in each piece comes from the keyboard's
elaboration of thematic material stated by the strings, and
it is the way in which this is handled that marks the difference
between the brothers' styles. When their concertos are played
one after the other the greater liquidity of the London Bach's
melodic invention, his lighter touch and his more winning charm
all four pieces the scoring is very economical with only one
instrument per part in the tiny, eminently practical “orchestra”
that accompanies the soloist - though the J.C. Bach concertos
allow for optional winds which are not employed here. To prevent
textures thinning out, the fortepiano provides a continuo when
not spinning the solo line.
performances are commendable, bringing the scores to life with
due observance of period performance practice. Susan Alexander-Max
shapes her solo lines with grace, ease and intelligence. I enjoyed
her recent Clementi
disc immensely, and her playing is just as magical here. I
would be interested in hearing a bit about her instrument. It
sounds like a modern replica fortepiano – sweet-toned and supple.
The warm and intimate Naxos recording certainly presents it and
the accompanying strings in their best light. A delightful disc.