CPE BACH: Magnificat, Wq 215; Heilig ist Gott, Wq 217; Sinfonie in D, Wq 183 – Elizabeth Watts, sop./ Wiebke Lehmkuhl, alto/ Lothar Odinius, tenor/ Markus Eichae, bass/ RIAS Kammerchor/ Akademie fur Alte Musik/ Hans-Christoph Rademann – Harmonia mundi HMC 902167, 56:05 ****:
I have always been completely enamored of the music of CPE Bach; to me, outside of JS himself, this man wrote the most engaging and thoroughly inventive music of the whole Bach clan. Here we are given one of his major compositions, the Magnificat, which seems in recent years to be picking up in popularity, this disc a celebration of the 300th birthday of the composer. Bach of course was the harpsichordist to Frederick the Great, and that posed problems and challenges as well as obvious advantages. This time he had the opportunity to display his skill at something other than chamber ensembles, and the result was a huge work of terrific melodic content. JS’s own B-Minor Mass is the obvious model for the piece, and we are not out of line in thinking CPE’s opus a worthy imitation, at least in parts.
This disc purports to recreate the second half of a concert from 1786 that included the B-Minor and excerpts from Messiah on the first half—it must have been a monstrous evening. Also given is his D-Major Sinfonie, the first work from a set of four such pieces that use a large wind section in addition to the strings and has achieved no little popularity these days. Personally I think this rendition a little blowsy and too fast, though one cannot but marvel at the orchestra. Holy is God from 1776 is for double choir, and the composer thought very highly of its innovations, even thinking that this is the work that would ensure his claim to fame after his death, and it caused quite a stir among the Hamburg audiences. Today we look at it as yet another brilliant demonstration of the composer’s art, one the most refined in the entire classical period.
The only real competition for this disc is the Carus release of the Magnificat that contains another major work, the cantata Die Himmel erzahlen die Ehre Gottes, and that disc, in wonderful surround sound, is to me preferable, even though this one under consideration includes the trumpet and timpani parts that the Carus recording eliminates, which Bach revised in 1779. However, the performances cannot be faulted, and the sound is still excellent in two-channel stereo.