CPE Bach: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4 ; Cello Concerto in A, Wq183/2

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4 ; Cello Concerto in A, Wq183/2
PERFORMER: Alison McGillivray (cello); The English Concert/Andrew Manze
The 18th-century music historian


Charles Burney once remarked

of CPE Bach that ‘his style is so

uncommon that a little habit is

required for the enjoyment of it’.

Inasmuch as CPE Bach’s music

almost invariably diverges from

current stylistic mainstream,

Burney’s assessment was astute and

in no sense unenthusiastic. This

new disc from the English Concert,

under Andrew Manze’s lively

and sensitive direction, contains

the four Symphonies which Bach

composed in 1775/6 and which

he himself considered the most

substantial works of their kind that

he had written. Each is scored for

pairs of horns, flutes and oboes

with bassoon, strings and continuo.

These are pieces of enormous

vitality and charm, often, as in the

second movement of the D major

Symphony, forward-looking with foreshadow. The north German

sensitively expressive aesthetic of

Empfindsamkeit is ever present

and is one to which these musicians

respond with spontaneity and

wonderfully transparent textures.

In addition to the Symphonies,

cellist Alison McGillivray plays one

of Emanuel Bach’s cello concertos.

This one, in A major dates from

1753 and is the latest of three which

he wrote or adapted from existing

harpsichord concertos while serving

at the Potsdam court of Frederick the

Great. McGillivray’s warm coloured,

lightly bowed and articulate

performance is a delight and nowhere

more so, perhaps, than in her

melancholy and beautifully poised

responses to its darkly coloured

Larghetto, fragrant with fine feeling.

Music and performances to treasure.


Nicholas Anderson