Piano Concertos: in d,
Michael Rische (pn); Morten Schuldt-Jensen, cond; Leipzig CO
HÄNSSLER 98 653 (56:39)
Mostly ignored for a century or so, the still rarely performed music of C. P. E. Bach has not received a good press even in recent years. Charles Rosen talked of “arbitrarily impassioned and dramatic modulations and the syncopated rhythms of Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach.” His most striking passages, according to Rosen, “exist in and for themselves, with little relation to any conception of the whole work.” He was, in Rosen’s view, a mannerist who worked “against a chaotic background of Baroque workmanship and tradition and half-understood classic and
aspirations.” Rosen was not the only critic who found this son of Bach disturbing: In his
Mozart and the Enlightenment,
Nicholas Till talked of Bach’s “dramatic extremes that are sometimes so violent that they lead to musical incoherence.” “Violence” is not a word we tend to associate with music, but it comes up often in talk of this Bach.
On the other hand,
readers may remember my friend William Youngren’s praise of C. P. E. Bach’s “compelling strength, majesty and pathos.” Many writers treat this Bach as an almost tragic (though personally cheerful and productive) figure, born in the wrong time and doomed only half to understand what he wanted his music to do. Youngren saw him not as transitional, not as a failed Mozart or as a man wandering between two worlds, one dead, and the other powerless to be born, but as significantly effective where he was.
Perhaps one has to forget Mozart when one listens to C. P. E. Bach. The three concertos played here by Michael Rische in this, the second of his discs devoted to Bach, are indeed dramatic, as Youngren says, and surprising if not violent. They are certainly varied: the one in C Minor, in an option Bach allowed that is in itself startling, is played here as a solo piano work. The main theme is attractive and it is worked out in a manner that sounds coherent and even powerful as played by Rische. But I wouldn’t have predicted the sudden change in tempo and mood that occurs when Bach seems to insert an
, and then a minuet, that would make one forget how the piece started….except that it starts up again in the last movement. The motivation for this truncated approach must be variety, and a joy in juxtaposing moods. Music, in Bach’s hands, can “dialogue” to misuse slightly something Boileau wrote to Racine: It seems to talk to itself, though.
It may be Bach’s motivation, rather than his accomplishment, that creates the problems for contemporary listeners. But I find all three works here compelling in their individuality. They are played with appealing vigor and intelligence by Michael Rische and boldly with vivid contrasts by the Leipziger Kammerorchester. They perform the touching slow movement to the Concerto in D Minor almost with a bounce and with a crispness that I find appealing. One can hear the C Minor Concerto with orchestra played by Andreas Staier and the Freiburger Barokorchester on Harmonia Mundi. I recommend that recording as well as the first two discs in this series by Michael Rische.