Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Symphony in D major, Wq. 183.1 [11:10]
Concerto for harpsichord and orchestra in E major, Wq. 14 [23:17]
Francesco BARBELLA (c.1692-1732)
Concerto III from ‘24 concerti del manoscritto di Napoli’ [9:08]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH
Sonata in A minor for violin, cello and obbligato harpsichord, Wq. 90:01 [8:17]
Wilhelm Friedmann BACH (1710-1784)
Symphony in F major, F. 67 / BR C 2 (‘Dissonanzen-Sinfonie’) [13:46]
Collegium Musicum Den Haag/Claudio Ribeiro (maestro al cembalo)
rec. 2014, Oud-Katholieke Kerk, Delft, the Netherlands
CMDH (no number) [65:38]

Not to be confused with Simon Standage’s Collegium Musicum 90, Collegium Musicum Den Haag is a young ensemble consisting of some of the top graduates of the Early Music scene growing out of The Hague’s Royal Conservatoire. Made with the support of private donations, this fine recording takes its name Empfindsam from the mid-18th century expressive stylistic movement of which C.P.E. Bach is the most renowned exponent. Recorded in 2014, it also celebrates C.P.E. Bach’s 300th anniversary.

Collegium Musicum Den Haag aren’t the only ones to have responded to this tercentenary, and the opening Symphony Wq. 183.1 has to compete with The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on the Signum label (see review). The latter is hard to beat, but even with a slightly less meaty recording and fewer musicians Collegium Musicum puts up a spirited fight. The more chamber-music feel is in fact a little more edgy, and with full-sounding tuttis and plenty of contrast there is certainly no sense of being short-changed. The separation of strings left and right is well captured, and the whole feel of slightly mad and uncompromising musicianship is delivered with great verve. It’s a shame the bass in the remarkable central Largo is rather distant and diffuse, and while this is no doubt an accurate concert balance this is one rare place for the instrument to shine, with its lazy lines under the flute duet and perky pizzicato of the violins. The Concerto Wq.14 is another substantial piece, with lively outer movements and a weighty central Poco adagio, the solo part taken stylishly by Claudio Ribeiro, the recording nicely balanced and avoiding over-exposure of the harpsichord without losing its sonorities.

Francesco Barbella is not a name commonly encountered on recordings, but if his Concerto III from ‘24 concerti del manoscritto di Napoli’ is anything to go by we have some catching up to do. This is music with plenty of surprising harmonies and shifts of character which wrong-footed even this seasoned listener. This is the kind of work which takes a few listens, and with fleet and nimble recorder solo playing by InÍs D’Avena this is the kind of music which stretches our perceptions from the elder Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos right into the kinds of harmonic sequences which almost launch us into a rustic romanticism.

A nice contrast is created in following the concerto with C.P.E. Bach’s Sonata in A minor, a keyboard piece accompanied by violin with cello which would be a precursor to the later piano trio. The harpsichord part dominates in an opening Presto with a continuous fast passage of notes flying off the page. Light string brushstrokes assist the elegant melody of the keyboard in the Andante, the work rounded off with a bouncy rondo.

Wilhelm Friedmann Bach was held in high regard by his brother Carl, and he is another significant representative of the Empfinsamer Stil. The juicy harmonic clashes in the first movement of the Symphony in F major resulted in its nickname of “Dissonanzen-Sinfonie”, and the wide leaps and unexpected fermatas result in something we consider typically Sturm und Drang today. This is another piece which rewards a repeated investigation of its rare twists and turns, from the strangely graceful Andante to the ongoing dramas of Menuetto 1, the audience released from musical alarms by a gentler and more formal concluding Menuetto 2.

Bringing us some unexpected highlights of post-Baroque pre-Classical music this is a recording which is filled with delights and is richly deserving of attention. The recording itself is very good, if not quite as closely focused as some from your more mainstream labels. There is no lack of musical satisfaction however, and this is a nicely produced release that should please all comers.

Dominy Clements