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Carl Philipp Emmanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Cello Concerto Wq.170 in A minor (1750) [23:00]
Cello Concerto Wq.171 in B flat major (1751) [20:26]
Cello Concerto Wq.172 in A major (1753) [17:17]
Julian Steckel (cello)
Stuttgarter Kammerorchester/Susanne von Gutzeit
rec. 19-21 May 2015 Göppingen Stadthalle, Göppingen, Germany

Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach wrote his three cello concerti in the early 1750s. Here are spirited and highly enjoyable versions of these popular works, played by Julian Steckel and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, led by Susanne von Gutzeit.

The performances, on modern instruments, remind listeners how the much difference between historically informed and conventional performance practice has narrowed. The old Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra of Karl Munchinger’s era produced a very warm and sometimes cloying sound. Today the orchestra has a much leaner, but not acidic sound, and its interpretations have been influenced by intervening years of discoveries about Eighteenth Century performance conventions.

Julian Steckel is a young German cellist who has also recorded Korngold and Bloch, suggesting a wide range of musical interest. He is technically assured, but just as important, really seems to enjoy the onrush of notes that Bach provides. Conductor Susanne von Gutzeit is in accord, which results in performances that are on the happy side of nervous energy. That is to say, this recording does not make C.P.E. Bach sound quite as neurotic as some. Nonetheless, even after decades of listening to these pieces, it is still wonderfully strange music, surprising listeners by lurching headlong into unexpected regions. Many interpreters treat C.P.E. Bach as a proto-romantic, or even as a voice speaking to our own anxious time. Steckel and von Gutzeit seem to anchor him more firmly in his own era, with no musical loss.

I call attention to Steckel’s gentle playing at the opening of the B flat concerto (Wq. 171), the excitement he brings to the end of the A minor concerto (Wq. 170), and the forward motion that all of these musicians bring to the slow movements, which some players make static and dull.

These are lively performances of three outstanding pre-classical cello concerti, full of drama, but more genial than disturbed.

Richard Kraus
Previous review: Michael Cookson



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