CPE Bach, JS Bach: Complete Works

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: CPE Bach,JS Bach
LABELS: Sony BMG
WORKS: Complete works for vocal ensemble and basso continuo, JS Bach – Art of Fugue – Contrapunctus XIX
PERFORMER: Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam/Harry Van Der Kamp
CATALOGUE NO: 82876705432

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As CPE Bach played the clavichord, entertaining the English music historian Dr Charles Burney, he ‘grew so animated and possessed that he… looked like one inspired’.

No less passion characterises these little-known pieces, here given their world premiere recording: four Motets, two Litanies and two Psalm settings.

The intensity lies almost wholly in Bach’s harmony. The motets and psalms are strophic, laid out in regular phrase-lengths, with only sudden dynamic bursts emphasising ‘rebellion’, ‘enmity’ and the like. But throughout, phrases which begin predictably enough, then twist and turn through harmonies pushing the limits of the overall language of pre-Classical music.

The two Litanies in particular are about as contrived as the current musical vocabulary could possibly allow. But, at 25-minute each and Sehr langsam – very slow – the inventiveness finally palls notwithstanding the focused singing.

The nine voices of the Gesualdo Consort blend with spine-tingling sonority, aided by the heavenly acoustic of a north German church. They’re supported appropriately by forte-piano, its sound less penetrating than harpsichord, and matching the warmth of the vocal ensemble.

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Van der Kamp further includes ‘a reverence’ to JS Bach, the incomplete contrapunctus which ends the Art of Fugue, texted and sung. The choice of ‘Amen, amen…’ on the final ‘B-A-C-H’ motif is poignant. George Pratt