CPE Bach: Symphony in G, Wq 173; Symphony in E minor, Wq 178; Symphony in E flat, Wq 179; Keyboard Concerto, Wq 20; Cello Concerto, Wq 170

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COMPOSERS: CPE Bach
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Symphony in G, Wq 173; Symphony in E minor, Wq 178; Symphony in E flat, Wq 179; Keyboard Concerto, Wq 20; Cello Concerto, Wq 170
PERFORMER: Raphael Alpermann (harpsichord), Peter Bruns (cello); Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901711
Even by Emanuel Bach’s standards, the Symphonies in E flat and E minor, both dating from the late 1750s, are disturbingly outré. With their obsessively driven tuttis, breaking off for fragile wisps of cantabile, and their weird harmonic and rhythmic dislocations, they constantly threaten chaos. Both first movements sound like music on the edge of a nervous breakdown; the slow movements exude the edgy, self-communing pathos characteristic of Bach’s Empfindsamkeit; and only the finales suggest anything approaching stability. The Berlin players rightly go for broke in this astonishing music, attacking the fast movements with tigerish energy, mining the vein of acute sensibility in the slow ones, and playing up Bach’s bizarre, disorientating contrasts for all they’re worth.

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The two earliest works on this disc – the G major Symphony and the C major Keyboard Concerto – are the most ‘normal’, though with Emanuel Bach normality is only relative: the Concerto, in particular, is a wayward, highly strung piece, with a broodingly introspective Adagio full of tortuous chromaticism. Raphael Alpermann, playing on an attractive copy of a German 18th-century harpsichord, is an eloquent soloist here. In the more familiar A minor Cello Concerto Peter Bruns, with his grainy, plangent tone, may lack the sheer abandon that Anner Bylsma (on Virgin) brings to this music; but he phrases imaginatively and scores over Bylsma with his spot-on intonation and adroit despatch of Bach’s low-lying toccata figuration. For a cross-section of orchestral works by one of music’s great eccentrics, you won’t do better than this. Richard Wigmore