COMPOSERS: CPE Bach
WORKS: Symphonies: in D, WQ 183/1; in A, WQ182/4; in B minor, WQ182/5; in F, WQ183/3; in E flat, WQ179
PERFORMER: Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Rebecca Miller
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 395
CPE Bach’s orchestral works surprise and shock with their stormy expressivity, lurching key changes, dramatic shifts and febrile energy. Daring and innovative first movements contrast with wistful slow movements and playful, dancing finales. Bach’s patron commissioned him to write the string symphonies Wq 182 ‘without regard to the difficulties of execution’, and the music scales the heights and plumbs the depths of both emotion and technique. The later symphonies, Wq 183, are boldly painted with a colourful orchestral palette, obbligato wind instruments highlighting the composer’s peppery sonorities and chromaticisms.
In these live performances given at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, Rebecca Miller draws assured and ebullient playing from the OAE. Tempos are well-judged for the acoustic and, though Miller exploits a wide dynamic range, she never overplays the music’s inherent drama. The orchestral sound is rich and suave, ensemble and intonation are polished – even, perhaps, rather too refined for these Sturm and Drang works. For a grittier and more incisive approach, consider Gustav Leonhardt’s still fresh-sounding recording of select symphonies with the same orchestra of 15 years ago.