J. S. BACH: Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings in D Minor, BWV 1052; C. P. E. BACH: Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Basso Continuo in G Major, Wq. 34; JOHANN CHRISTIAN BACH (attrib.): Concerto for Piano, Strings, and Basso Continuo – Pieter-Jan Belder, keyboards and cond./ Musica Amphion – Quintone multichannel SACD Q 06001 [Distr. by Naxos], 62:00 ****:
This SACD represents a good idea very well executed. To contrast works by father Bach and two of his sons has inherent appeal, especially when we have three entirely different keyboard instruments—harpsichord, organ, and fortepiano—adding even more contrast. The best-known work, of course, is Johann Sebastian’s Concerto No. 1, the most famous of his harpsichord concertos, although it probably started life as a violin concerto (now lost) and, thanks to the Baroque habit of constant recycling, also served as the basis for the sinfonias in Bach’s Cantatas BWV 146 and 188. The transcription for harpsichord is as idiomatic and virtuosic as one would wish and is full of Bach’s complex polyphonic writing.
The two concertos by Bach’s sons come from the age of the style galant and are thus homophonic and in the outer movements at least have the dash and vigor of the early Classical period. Carl Philipp Emanuel’s concerto also has an excellent example of that composer’s Emfindsam Stil (“sensitive style”), the tender, plaintive minor-key slow movement. C. P. E. specified that this concerto could be played on either organ or harpsichord; it seems usually to be played on organ, however, so Pieter-Jan Belder’s choice is a good one: a modern instrument (2004) by Baroque organ builder Henk Klop, a dulcet-sounding little instrument indeed. Like his father, C. P. E. would also recycle his work, as a flute concerto—from many pipes down to just one!
As to the Concerto for Piano by Johann Christian Bach, published in 1770 but probably written somewhat earlier—well, as the notes reveal, the attribution to J. C. is very shaky; scholars now assign it to Johann Christian’s slightly older brother, Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach. The work sounds decidedly old fashioned next to the urbane, up-to-the-minute music J. C. was creating around 1770. Probably, the concerto appeared under J. C.’s name as a publisher’s ploy, the younger Bach brother being much more famous. In any event, since both brothers favored the fortepiano, it makes sense to play it on that instrument, in this case a modern instrument based on a 1795 piano by Anton Walter of Vienna, an attractive, mild-mannered instrument by the sound of it on this SACD.
Pieter-Jan Belder is clearly a master of all three instruments; none of these performances sounds any less accomplished or idiomatic than the others. His little orchestra of eight strings plus basso continuo is just right for this intimate music, and they play with fervor and insight. The recording, made in a church in Deventer, the Netherlands, is mostly very good as well, though either because of the forward placement of the harpsichord or the resonance of the venue, or both, the keyboard somewhat overpowers the strings. Ironically, Belder’s notes tell us that the organ was used in the C. P. E. Bach concerto for the very reason that “most harpsichords are simply too soft to compete with a big orchestra. Playing the piece on the organ solves that problem.” Anyway, the balances are more judicious in the two concertos by Bach’s sons and are therefore more successfully recorded. Nonetheless, this is a handy, engaging collection of pieces from the Bach workshop, and I recommend it.
[For some odd reason, Quintone wants to disguise the fact that some of their releases are multichannel SACDs. There is only a very tiny SACD logo one place on the album, and no mention in the notes or album number. I recall a similar ploy with some labels years ago during the quadraphonic LP era…Ed.]
Mack Avenue Records released a stunning live album!