RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Symphonies by the Bach Sons
Johann Christoph Friedrich BACH (1732-1795)
Symphony in E flat major, HW I/10 for two horns, two oboes, strings and basso continuo (1770-72) [9:25]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Symphony in E minor, Wq 177-H652 for strings and basso continuo (1756) [10:16]
Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782)
Symphony in E flat major Op. 6/3- W C9 for two horns, two oboes, strings and basso continuo (1770) [12:30]
Johann Christoph Friedrich BACH
Symphony in D minor HW I/3 for strings and basso continuo (1768) [8:33]
Johann Christian BACH
Symphony in G minor, Op.6/6 W C12 for two horns, two oboes, strings and basso continuo (1770) [12:28]
Bach Concentus/Ewald Demeyere
rec. deSingel, Antwerp, Belgium, 8-11September 2011
ACCENT ACC24257 [53:20]
Every so often, it can be good to go ‘Back to Bach’. From the motor-rhythms of Bartók to the complexities of Boulez by way of the romance of Rachmaninov and the ‘nobilmente' of Elgar twentieth and nineteenth century music largely satisfies my needs. I must not forget my two particular favourites, Parry ’n’ Stanford.
On the other hand, Bach is never far away from me. JSB’s Two and Three Part Inventions and the Little Preludes permanently reside on the piano. The St. Matthew Passion is a yearly event in my listening calendar and I enjoy hearing the ‘master’ played on the organ whenever I am in church.
However, all that is Bach ‘père’. What are presented here are five well-wrought symphonies by three of his sons.
The CD cover is truly evocative - at least to anyone who has ever dreamt of discovering a ‘lost’ classic car buried deep in an old barn or disused garage. Volkswagens were never my favourite design of ‘wheels’ - that honour is reserved for the Austin Somerset which I have lusted after for near fifty years. Yet the picture serves it purpose: invocation of a selection of lost - or at least hardly ‘well-kent’ - symphonies.
I did a quick count: as far as I can see, there are some seven versions of Johann Christian Bach’s Symphony in G minor. Two are represented by a couple of recordings. However, I cannot find another edition of Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach’s fine E flat major and D minor Symphonies. Nonetheless, they may well be in the catalogues and known to the Bach-family cognoscenti.
On the matter of the Bach family, a few brief notes on the composers may not go amiss - for those people who like myself often get their ‘Bachs’ mixed up.
Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-1795) was born in Liepzig and died in Bückeburg aged sixty-three. He was JSB’s sixteenth child and ninth son. He combined performance with composition. His many works include chamber music, keyboard sonatas, concertos and the present two symphonies.
Carl Philipp Emanuel (C.P.E.) Bach was born in Weimar in 1714 and died in Hamburg in 1788 aged seventy-four. He was the fifth child and third son of the Master. He was a notable player of keyboard instruments, and also a considerable composer. A major achievement was as one of the originators of the ‘sonata-symphony’ form. This succeeded the old suite and dance forms. He held a sinecure at the court of Frederick the Great, but latterly lived in some obscurity in Hamburg, working as an organist and musical director in a number of local churches.
Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782) was born in Leipzig and died in London aged forty-six. He was the eighteenth child and eleventh son. His earlier life was spent as an organist in Milan and other Northern Italian towns. His pseudonym is ‘The English Bach’ due to the fact that he lived the last 25 years in London employed as an opera director and musical master to Queen Charlotte. J.C.B. wrote many operas, symphonies and instrumental music for the harpsichord.
I listened to all the works on this CD with an innocent ear: I cannot claim to have consciously heard any of them before. I am not an expert on Bach orchestras: I confess to not yet having made up my mind about the question of ‘period instruments’ as opposed to ‘modern’. I do like Bach (any of that musical family) performed on a concert grand piano. Contrariwise, I also enjoy hearing it played on contemporary harpsichords. The present ensemble, Bach Concentus was founded in 2007 by their artistic director Ewald Demeyere and Guilin D’Alessio. They devote their attention to the instrumental and vocal music of the Baroque and Classical periods. In addition, yes, they do play period instruments. Their speciality is the Bach dynasty and include in their concerts repertoire from those offspring played on this disc as well as the relatively rarely heard Johann Bernard Bach and William Friedrich Bach. Other composers in their repertoire include our own Thomas Arne, as well as Handel, Mozart, Salieri, Telemann and Vivaldi. Much effort goes into establishing the ‘historical authenticity’ of any work performed, which involves considerable labour in producing the ‘correct’ score from surviving documents and later editions. The excellent liner-notes sum up all this effort by noting that Bach Concentus wants to ‘put into practice the latest musicological discoveries regarding historical performance practice.’
Whatever the erudition - and this is manifestly considerable - that is put into realising the present symphonies the bottom line is the end result: in the present CD it is brilliant. All the spontaneity, colour and ultimately cool textures of these works are vividly brought out. They excited me, moved me and thoroughly entertained me.
These symphonies excited me, moved me and thoroughly entertained me.