Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Symphony in G major, Wq 182/1 [11:00]
Symphony in B flat, Wq 182/2 [11:25]
Symphony in C, Wq 182/3 (1773) [10:54]
Symphony in A, Wq 182/4 (1773) [12:52]
Symphony in B minor, Wq 182/5 (1773) [10:32]
Symphony in E, Wq 182/6 (1773) [9:02]
Ensemble Resonanz/Riccardo Minasi
rec. 2014, Rolf-Liebermann Studio, Hamburg.
ES-DUR ES2053 [65:45]
This is an excellent, high-octane set of C.P.E. Bach’s six Hamburg symphonies. The energy and tight rhythmic control at speed which explodes from the opening of the Symphony in G major WQ 182/1 shows us we are in for a treat from the outset. Riccardo Minasi’s attitude to these remarkable but tricky to classify works is significant, as he feels that “you need to be a humourist to be able to write like this”, even remarking that “sometimes Bach’s music reminds me a little of ‘Tom and Jerry’.”
This is not to say these performances are filled with buffoonery, but Minasi entertains us with keenly observed accents, wide dynamic rage and plenty of contrast. His central movements are stately and elegantly tender where required, and startlingly dramatic as in the Adagio of Wq 182/3.
We’ve recently had a mini-glut of C.P.E. Bach recordings with 2014 being his 300th anniversary. This set of the six Hamburg Symphonies has to go up against the likes of the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo on Alba (review). This has the advantage of SACD sound, but even comparing via straight stereo there is a greater sense of space in a more resonant acoustic, which makes it more generous sounding. Ensemble Resonanz’s recording is closer and more intimate, delivering chamber music textures rather than the more orchestral sounding Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra. Overall timings over the two discs are not too different, but a crucial difference is that Oramo takes outer movements more slowly and central movements more quickly than Minasi.
My initial reaction was a preference for the Alba disc, but in the end things aren’t so simple. Oramo’s conducting means that we’re kept in a state of higher alert through more of the programme, whereas Minasi can at times create a greater sense of space and of form unfolding unhurriedly in the slow movements. The Alba recording is grander, but while Minasi’s Studio Hamburg recording is pretty dry it does have plenty to offer. The pick-up of the final Allegro assai after the quiet refinement of the central Largo ed innocentemente of Wq 182/3, which is 30 seconds longer than with Oramo, is a case in point, the transitional contrast a genuine uplift. The biting edge of the final Presto of Wq 182/5 is also very dramatic, but the sheer pace can end up sounding a bit too hectic - the clarity of certain passages perhaps not what it might be.
In the end it will be up to you to decide if you prefer a lighter, more fleet of foot and more transparent sound as with Ensemble Resonanz, or the richer heft of the Ostrobothnian players. If I was forced to choose I would have to plump for the latter, but then I’ve always been partial to a nice bit of resonance and have to admit preferring the greater depth and weight of this alternative. Hearing this Es Dur release has however reminded me that there is more than one way to tackle C.P.E. Bach’s Hamburg Symphonies, and Riccardo Minasi’s is a very good one indeed.