Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for harpsichord, strings and bc in d minor (BWV 1052) [21:30]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Concerto for organ, strings and bc in G (Wq 34/H 444) [23:34]
Johann Christoph Friedrich BACH (?) (1732-1795)
Concerto for keyboard, strings and bc in E flat (BR JCFB C 29)* [17:47]
Musica Amphion/Pieter-Jan Belder (harpsichord, fortepiano*, organ)
rec. 2006, Doopsgezinde Kerk, Deventer, Netherlands. DDD
QUINTONE Q06001 [62:52]
Johann Sebastian Bach has the reputation of being a brilliant, but rather conservative
composer. The latter is true insofar as counterpoint is concerned and this remained
an essential element in his compositions until the very end of his life. In
other respects he was rather modern. That is certainly the case in regard to
the role of the harpsichord. In Bach's formative years it was restricted to
accompanying instruments or singers. He was the first to give the harpsichord
an independent role in the ensemble, as his fifth Brandenburg Concerto shows.
He was also the first to compose concertos for harpsichord with instrumental
accompaniment, and even concertos for two, three and four harpsichords. These
date from his time in Leipzig, and were mostly reworkings of concertos for other
scorings probably written in Cöthen. It is no exaggeration to say that
Bach laid the foundation for a genre which would be one of the most prominent
in the history of Western music: the piano concerto.
His sons followed his example: all of them composed a considerable number of
keyboard concertos. It makes sense to include specimens of their forays into
this genre alongside one of the most brilliant concertos by their father. The
Concerto in d minor (BWV 1052) is generally considered one of Bach's
earliest concertos, originally probably scored for violin. The solo part in
its harpsichord version is technically demanding and the fast movements contain
a considerable amount of drama. I liked the way Pieter-Jan Belder raises the
tension towards the end of these movements. I would have liked a more differentiated
treatment of the tempo, though; some rubato wouldn’t have gone amiss.
The playing of the strings - one instrument per part - is a bit disappointing,
in particular because dynamically it is rather flat.
With the concertos of the two Bach sons we are in a different world. The features
are sudden contrasts in dynamics and mood, drum basses and a plenty of expression
in the slow movements. It is telling that in Johann Christoph Friedrich's Concerto
in E flat the strings are muted. This is a common feature of orchestral
music of the time.
Carl Philipp Emanuel's Concerto in G was originally composed for organ,
and afterwards arranged for harpsichord and transverse flute. The original version
dates from 1755. It seems likely that it was written for Anna Amalia, the youngest
sister of Frederick the Great. Emanuel also composed his organ sonatas for her.
She was an enthusiastic organ player but not able to play the pedals. Therefore
neither the sonatas nor the organ concertos include a pedal part. Belder uses
a small organ by Henk Klop, which seems well suited to playing the basso continuo,
but lacks character for the solo part. Apparently the disposition is too limited
to allow a variety of registration between the various movements. An organ like
the one Wolfgang Zerer uses in his performance of one of Emanuel's sonatas would
have been preferable (review).
Belder plays the concerto well, though, and the orchestra - this time with five
violins and two violas - is more engaging and more receptive to the concerto's
The last item is the Concerto in E flat which until fairly recently was
attributed to Johann Christian Bach. It was published in Riga in 1770 and shows
a strong similarity to the keyboard concertos of Carl Philipp Emanuel. Right
now it is assumed that this concerto was written by his second youngest brother
Johann Christoph Friedrich, the so-called 'Bückeburger Bach'. It is rather
odd that Belder refers to this in his liner-notes, but the track-list still
mentions Johann Christian as the composer. I have corrected this in the header.
It is again the choice of the keyboard which raises questions. In 1770 the fortepiano
had not fully established itself as an alternative to the harpsichord. That
doesn't exclude the possibility that it could have been played at such an instrument.
The choice of a copy of a fortepiano by Anton Walter from 1795 is hard to understand.
This is definitely not the most appropriate instrument for a concerto printed
in 1770. A Silbermann fortepiano or even a table piano would have been a better
option. That said, the performance is very good, from both soloist and ensemble.
A word about the booklet. The recording dates from 2006 and the biographies
of Belder and his ensemble include information about recording plans which were
realised some years ago. This suggests that this recording has been released
before, but I am pretty sure this is its debut. If that is correct Quintone
should have updated the information. The liner-notes should also have been edited.
Let me sum up. While it is a shame that the Concerto in d minor by Johann
Sebastian isn't completely satisfying this is certainly a disc to enjoy. That’s
especially true so far as the concertos by the two Bach sons are concerned and
this despite the disputable choice of keyboard instrument. Emanuel's organ concertos
are not that well-known, and the one by Johann Christoph Friedrich will enhance
the reputation of its composer.
Johan van Veen
Overall a disc to enjoy.