C.P.E. BACH: Cello Concertos = Concerto in A Major, Wq. 172; Concerto in B-flat Major, Wq. 171; Concerto in A Minor, Wq. 170 – Truls Mork, cello/ Les Violons du Roy/Bernard Labadie
– Virgin Classics 6944920 8, 68:25 [Distr. By EMI] ****:
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) established himself in several musical venues, namely in Hamburg, Potsdam, and Berlin, particularly in service to the court of Frederick the Great. It was with the burgeoning middle class, however, that Bach found a sympathetic audience for his empfindsamkeit or “emotional” style, to which these cello concertos, composed 1750-1753, conform. The idiomatic nature of the writing seems to confirm that the cello concertos assumed primacy of place for Bach, considering that he arranged these works for flute and harpsichord performance. The virtuosic level of technique required to perform the concertos well raises the name of Bach’s contemporary Ignaz Mara–a principal in Frederick the Great’s ensemble–as a candidate for their realization in Bach’s time.
The A Major Concerto (1753), composed in Potsdam, offers the most galant of the three works, often scurrying in merry figures and rife with accessible melodies. Typically, the melodic line sways and flings itself forward, utilizing the full range of the instrument, the ritornellos rich with ideas but eschewing contrapuntal treatment, a procedure Bach assigned to the “learned” style of his father. Truls Mork wrote a cadenza for the A Major Concerto, leaning heavily on the groundbreaking 1988 recordings by Anner Bylsma of these impetuous works. The slow movement of the A Major–and indeed of all three concertos–captures the sensitive spirit of the composer. Against muted strings, Mork plies a deeply felt cantilena. The last movement gives in to genial and reckless energies, jovial interchanges between clusters of instruments in varied densities of sound.
The Concerto in B-flat Major (1751) is a Berlin product, and its level of execution demands a gifted player; we note that the Hamburg merchant and amateur cellist Daniel Stockfleet returned the score to Bach because of its difficulty. The opening ritornello aims for a balanced texture that could easily have provided a model for Mozart. The cadenza for the Adagio movement comes from Bach himself. The transparency of the orchestral writing adds a delightful ease of transition to the figures’ modulations and alternations of the solo against the chest of strings. The whirling figures in the cello part become quite addictive over and against the step-wise motions of the ripieno. The meditative poignancy of the Adagio’s chromatic and “broken style” could be traced to the intensity of Bach’s father’s chorale-preludes. The last movement Allegro assai dances in the manner of a concerto grosso by Vivaldi, except that the solo cello restrains the flurries with moments of lyric fancy. The upper and lower strings engage in some heated palaver in trills and sudden starts and stops, along with those long stretched-note singing lines Bach relishes.
The A Minor Concerto (1750) presents us a stormy, almost sturm-und-drang opening, although a bit of sunlight enters at the end of the extended melodic phrase. Insistent, repetitious figures demand our attention; and the cello solo, too, seems beset by emotional turmoil. The uneven bar lines and mixed phrase-units contribute to the sense of unease the expansive Allegro assai projects. The velocity and virtuosity of the cello part here attest to Mork’s fluent articulation of his part; the orchestra responds with thrusts and interjections of frightful intensity. More than once the emotional force of the movement adumbrates passages in Robert Schumann. The cadenza here has Anner Bylsma’s original as the basis for the plaints from Mork. Even the ensuing Andante sings smoothly–but only momentarily–before the melodic curve suffers jabs and lunging ejaculations from the chromatic strings. The progression becomes stately, courtly, and no less anguished in its sudden bursts of angular wistfulness. The buzz saw effects and melodic roulades of the final movement extend the plastic contours that make C.P.E. Bach’s music a constant source of delight and askew surprise, but always faithful to his artistic dictum that “first and foremost music must touch the heart.”
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