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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Concerto in G Wq3 (H405) [18:35]
Concerto in G minor Wq6 (H409) [22.35]
Concerto in E Wq14 (H417) [23.16]
Musica Amphion/Pieter-Jan Belder (harpsichord)
rec. 5-7 September 2013, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Köln

While Johann Sebastian Bach would be one of the hardest people ever to follow, his second-born son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, was undoubtedly the most outstandingly-individual talent of his sons. Active in a wide range of musical fields, Emanuel’s core output were his works for clavier or Klavier – in essence any stringed keyboard-instrument in Germany from the late 17th century, the harpsichord, clavichord and piano all bearing the name respectively. Central to this are his more than fifty concertos for clavier, a surprising number considering the newness of the genre at the time.
Although his father is generally credited with raising the profile of the harpsichord from its traditional accompanying, or solo recital roles to that of a solo concerto instrument – for example, his Fifth Brandenburg Concerto includes a solo harpsichord part of ground-breaking importance, and which could definitely lay claim to it being considered the first-ever keyboard concerto. True, father Bach also wrote a number of actual harpsichord concertos per se, but these are almost certainly arrangements of earlier works for other instruments like the oboe or violin.
From the historical standpoint, Emanuel Bach is one of those composers whose career spans two major musical periods. Naturally he inherited the Baroque forms and musical language from his father, but as he outlived him by some thirty-eight years, Emanuel became one of the most important figures of the ‘Empfindsamer Stil’ – with the intention to express ‘true and natural’ feelings, and often featuring sudden contrasts of mood – developed as a contrast to the Baroque ‘Affektenlehre’, in which a composition or single movement would have the same affect, or emotion, throughout. He was also a pioneer of the ‘Sturm and Drang’ movement, a style borrowed from literary sources, which allowed self-expression and often quite impulsive emotions, and which manifest themselves in his harmonic language, and interest in improvisation.
The G major Concerto dates from 1737 (revised in 1745). Its octave-unison opening tutti of some six bars has great vigour but, unlike the start of father Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 3 in the same key, with its typical motor-rhythm and constant onward drive, Emanuel’s opening is mixed with a certain nervous energy, which straightaway makes it less predictable, and which the unexpected string-passage interjections and decidedly chromatic element enhance – after just twenty seconds, for example, the key has shifted to the tonic minor (G minor). Other stylistic fingerprints include a more modern approach to the essential relationship between solo passages, and orchestral sections, again something which was to change the direction of the concerto form itself over the coming decades.
The central Adagio in G minor does have a parallel with a similar movement from father Bach, but here there is a more poetic feel to the solo part than was the case in J.S.’s work. An uncomplicated dance-like movement, with a certain rustic charm, ends the concerto in true high spirits.
The Concerto in G minor was written in 1740, and while the jagged dotted-rhythms hark back to the former French Overture, again they do not take thematic control, and when the soloist enters, the preoccupation changes to passages more in triplets. Again the pauses with their associated Imperfect Cadences – leading on, each time, to a fresh idea – add to the constantly-changing musical canvas, and heighten the listener’s interest.
Muted strings are required in the central Largo, and which provide extra tonal contrast with the far-brighter outer movements. The soloist’s entry, with its sustained trill, almost looks forward in some way to the equivalent movement from Brahms’ First Piano Concerto – remarkably over a hundred years later. The final Allegro di molto dispels the emotional repose of the Adagio, with a full-bodied theme in 2/2, which combines chattering passage-work from the soloist with effective use at times of string pizzicatos.
The final concerto, in E major, was composed in 1744, though not published until 1760, and is his only concerto in this key. There is more than a passing resemblance to the opening movement of Haydn’s ‘Farewell Symphony’ – both in triple time (3/4) – with the wide-interval theme in crotchets (quarter-notes), and over which the soloist constantly embellishes with sparkling scales and broken chords. A short cadenza is included – again looking ahead to the classical concerto – as this truly-energetic movement moves towards its close.
Muted strings are called for once more in the persuasive Poco adagio in E minor, and where their fortissimo interruptions add to the tormented feel. By contrast, the soloist’s contribution is more eloquent, almost improvisatory in feel, and with ornamentation that enhances, rather than feeling purely perfunctory. Once more there is a short cadenza with a closing trill, that was to become almost de rigueur in later concertos, and which also hints at the short slow movement in the same key, from Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Once more, an alluring dance-like finale in 6/8 returns again to a more convivial and carefree world, although there are darker, minor sections, but which never really last long enough to upset the almost naïve, childlike jollity of the main theme. As before, a mixture of scale-passages, broken chords and octaves from the soloist propels the movement to its joyful conclusion.
You’re not exactly spoilt for choice, should you be seeking an alternative recording, but with Belder’s superb keyboard artistry and consummate technique – which the writing clearly demands – you need look no further. The period-instrument ensemble, Musica Amphion, provides the perfect accompaniment, under Belder’s secure direction from the keyboard, and the recording finely captures the same dynamic balance you would expect live, between the five string players and harpsichord – a modern copy built by Titus Crijnen (2013) after Blanchet (1730/33).
Brilliant Classics is currently involved in releasing a series of recordings to commemorate the tercentenary of Emanuel’s birth. According to the excellent liner notes – and which are pleasingly couched in natural English, rather than the all-too-frequent Denglish – the distinguished writer, Charles Rosen, was even bold enough to claim: ‘Next to C.P.E. Bach, Haydn appears like a cautious, sober composer’. There is certainly more than sufficient evidence in the three works recorded here to substantiate this statement to some degree – and even if you feel that Haydn ultimately has the edge, this is still music of real inventiveness, energy, and great charm, and a real delight to get to know better.

Philip R Buttall