C.P.E. BACH: Flute Concertos – Emmanuel Pahud, flute/ Kammerakademie Potsdam/ Trevor Pinnock – Warner Classics

by | Jan 9, 2017 | Classical CD Reviews

C.P.E. BACH: Flute Concertos – Emmanuel Pahud, flute/ Kammerakademie Potsdam/ Trevor Pinnock – Warner Classics 27679, 66:44 (11/4/16) ****:

Three exceptionally lively concertos demonstrating flute virtuosity.

In a previous release, Emmanuel Pahud and the Potsdam Academy gave us an overview of the musical activities at the Court of Frederick the Great, especially as they celebrated the King’s predilection for the flute. We heard a creditable composition from the King himself as well as pieces by the court favorite, Johann Quantz. Somewhat incongruously, Bach senior was represented; He was a one time guest from the provinces and another era. His son, C.P.E. Bach, however, is the name most closely associated with this moment in musical history, and it is with his work that the present CD is concerned.

In the liner notes, it seems like Emmanuel Pahud is interested in nudging Bach out of the Rococo and over to the left.  Pahud writes: “He combines the world of the court with that of the people — and does this by fleeing from both realities and inventing a new and different world. He serves neither the powdered wigs not the struggling multitudes, but creates new, musical visions.”

The playing of Pahud and his ensemble of fiddlers underscores the Sturm und Drang Romanticism of Bach as it anticipated the “unshackling” of Beethoven. The first Allegro Assai of Concerto in A minor is taken at a ridiculous clip. For the flute virtuoso Mr. Pahud, this is invigorating exercise, but we feel for the string players, from whom much is asked given the complexity of the score. The improvisatory brilliance of this music delivers a real wallop. At 8:17, one feels like the party has been going on a bit too long, the florid part-writing and the loquaciousness of the soloist strain the sensorium of the modern listener. The Andante comes as a relief. With withers decently wrung out, the strings set out at a walking pace, while the flute waxes pastoral with cantabile lyricism. C.P.E is never less than elegant in his slow movements.

However, Bach’s son recognized that there was something that had been irrecoverably lost in his generation that had last been seen in his pop’s work, a deeper sort of expressive power. In referring to the adagios of the sonatas for violin and harpsichord, he lamented “no one can write melodies like this anymore.”  Indeed, not. By comparison to the elder Bach, the generation of Empfindsamer composers, led by C.P.E himself, seem more remote from us in spite of their aesthetic concerns with artistic self-expression. The Largo of the second concerto in G, is closer to the old style and is resplendent. Mr Pahud’s Boehm flute, played with the lightest of vibrato, is affecting throughout. The drowsy strings shimmer on the horizon while the flute flutters and wafts in a melodic language which speaks directly posterity. It was Beethoven who remarked famously about Bach the Second, “he is father to us all.”

The three concertos on offer here do not exhibit differ markedly from one another. All are testaments to the liveliest of musical attitudes, especially in the brisk outer movements. If one subtracts the decorous and decorative stylistic features, one feels that we are not far from the vigor of swing or the up-tempo blowing of bebop musicians such as Sonny Stitt or Bud Powell. Why this music has not been appropriated for dance exercise classes is perplexing.

It is hard to imagine anyone making a better case for this music than Mr. Pahud and the Kammerakadamie Potsdam. The playing does justice to the brilliance of the music and the recorded sound is exemplary. (But how one misses the sound of a wind instrument to break up the uniform texture of the string ensemble). Those in search of a dramatic display of flute virtuosity will be rewarded here, and I can imagine a number of jazz enthusiasts coming around to an appreciation of the specific genius of this inspired member of the Bach dynasty.

TrackList: Concerto in A minor, Wq 166; Concerto in G, Wq 169; Concerto in D minor, Wq 22

—Fritz Balwit

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