All products and recordings are chosen independently by our editorial team. This review contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.

CPE Bach • Beethoven: Symphonies

Akademie für Alt Musik Berlin/Bernhard Forck (Harmonia Mundi)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

CPE Bach • Beethoven
CPE Bach: Symphonies in F major, Wq. 175 (H650) & Wq. 183/3 (H665); Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21; Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36
Akademie für Alt Musik Berlin/Bernhard Forck
Harmonia Mundi HMM902420   77:55 mins


Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-88) was the big symphonic force in 18th-century Germany, and when anybody mentioned ‘Bach’ in Vienna it was to him rather than to his father, Johann Sebastian Bach,  that they were referring. Mozart is reported to have said of him: ‘He is the father, we are the children.’ The young Beethoven was taught keyboard technique by Gottlob Neefe with the aid of CPE’s celebrated treatise on the subject.

This recording is designed to show how CPE’s symphonies may have been distant models for Beethoven’s first essays in the genre. And although they don’t embody the fizzing turbulence of CPE’s keyboard sonatas, the symphonies – here placed back to back with Beethoven’s first two – do give some idea of his abrupt changes of mood, his restless changes of harmonic direction and his constant urge to experiment. The Symphony in F major radiates impatience to push stylistic boundaries, and its nimble minuet has both charm and intricacy. The Poco andante of the work in G major possesses a noble grandeur, and the concluding Presto is adroit.

But these are minor works of mere musicological interest when placed alongside those of Beethoven, the peremptory opening chords of whose Second Symphony represent a call for attention of a quite different order.

Bernhard Forck leads the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin in these performances with springy tempos and a fine clarity of texture.


Michael Church