CPE Bach

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: CPE Bach
LABELS: Es-dur
ALBUM TITLE: CPE Bach
WORKS: Hamburg Symphonies
PERFORMER: Ensemble Resonanz/Riccardo Minasi
CATALOGUE NO: ES 2053

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The six ‘Hamburg’ Symphonies were in the vanguard of the CPE Bach revival when Christopher Hogwood and Trevor Pinnock both recorded them over 30 years ago, and they continue to fascinate. Even Sakari Oramo recently released a set with the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra (reviewed February 2015). Ensemble Resonanz’s new addition spotlights a tight-knit ensemble based in the city where the symphonies were composed, commissioned by Baron van Swieten – later Mozart’s ‘Baroque conscience’ in Vienna.

Curiously, whereas the diplomat deepened Mozart’s appreciation of (JS) Bachian counterpoint and Handelian decorum, he urged CPE Bach to let rip without ‘considering the difficulties’. CPE didn’t disappoint. The symphonies continually ambush the ear, bristling with startling leaps of the imagination that resonate powerfully with Riccardo Minasi’s visceral direction. The B minor Symphony’s Presto is so incendiary that asbestos gloves might be in order, while the protean energy of the C major’s opening movement, scales going off like fire-crackers in all directions, compounds the Hamburgers’ relish for the sort of fevered edginess that it obtains throughout the set.

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At one sitting, their gusto can be a little abrasive – the ‘innocentemente of the A major Symphony or the ameliorating gracefulness’ (to quote the booklet) of No. 2’s Poco adagio are under-cherished – but the ride is exhilarating. Playing it safe in these rollercoaster symphonies is never an option. Paul Riley