This is probably the highest profile release to have yet emerged in C.P.E. Bach’s tercentenary year, and very good it is, too. It recreates the second half of a programme that C.P.E. Bach himself conducted in Hamburg in 1786, which turned out to be the final concert he would conduct. It’s great music well played, and well worth investigating.
The Magnificat is a splendid work. You can detect the spirit of Emmanuel’s illustrious father hovering over the music, both in the splendour of its orchestral and choral writing, the contrapuntal mastery and in the structural devices he deploys, including instrumental obbligati and even the device used in Johann Sebastian’s own Magnificat of repeating the introductory music in the final movement. These links are both its blessing and its curse. If Emmanuel were not the son of such a father then it is possible we would know his name even less than we do, but the comparison sometimes prohibits the music from being taken seriously on its own terms, which it manifestly deserves to be.
The opening chorus of the Magnificat explodes out of the speakers in a most exciting manner, full of vibrancy, energy and busyness. This is also a good choice with which to begin the disc, as it showcases both the sprightliness of the orchestral playing and the lithe, agile singing of the chorus to outstanding effect. It’s also a sign of the commitment that they bring to every aspect of this disc. Indeed, orchestra and chorus make an inspired team in this music, with the final Gloria
and Sicut erat in principio
bringing the whole work to a truly remarkable conclusion.
The soloists are a little more variable. Elizabeth Watts, normally so reliable, makes slightly heavy weather of Quia respexit
, for all the beauty of the accompanying string tone. Lothar Odinius is not, perhaps, as agile in the coloratura as one might hope, but he has a bright, sweet tone which he puts to good use in Quia fecit
and, even more so, in Deposuit potentes
, which is a lovely duet with Wiebke Lehmkuhl’s alto. She then surpasses this even further in the subsequent Suscepit Israel
. Markus Eiche is a strong, vigorous bass who responds well to the stimulus of the trumpets and drums in Fecit potentiam
The other items on the disc are by no means also-rans. Emmanuel rated the motet Heilig ist Gott
as one of his own best works. Written for double choir, not only are its musical lines well worked out, but it’s brilliantly dramatic in the interplay of the two choirs and in the strong dynamic contrasts he deploys. The Symphony also shows Emmanuel at his most dynamically and harmonically inventive, and it is played with vigour and excitement by the Berlin orchestra, whose strings seem to relish that slight edge on their sound, and whose winds give pithy commentaries that leaven the texture and bring the sound to life.
In short, this disc is a great way in to C.P.E. Bach’s music. If you’re only going to buy one disc of his music this year, why not make it this one?
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