C. P. E. Bach: Cello Concerti

Pink chrysanthemum

Guy Fishman cello, Members of the Handel and Haydn Society
Olde Focus Recordings

Probably the most prodigiously talented of the Bach sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel wrote concertos for a large variety of instruments, but his cello concerti are probably the finest of these. It is mainly in the slow movements of the three concerti recorded here by Guy Fishman and his colleagues in the Boston-based Handel and Haydn Society that we find CPE at his most eloquent and profound. Frequent quixotic changes of mood and moments of inspired originality animate the opening movements and also the often sparklingly virtuosic finales. Playing one to a part, the ‘orchestral’ musicians can react quickly and unanimously to the soloist, and these performances are characterised by fleetness of foot and animated interaction between soloist and ensemble. Composed while Bach was employed at the court of Frederick the Great, he clearly had access to some of the finest musicians of the age, and while his duties at court seem to have been underappreciated, with his music sounding rather too musically daring for the conservative Frederick, it did at least leave the composer lots of time to produce a string of masterpieces. The programme comprises the concerti in A major Wq. 172, in A minor Wq. 170 and in B flat major Wq. 171, all beautifully played and for which Fishman invents his own cadenzas as Bach’s cellist would undoubtedly have done – Bach’s own cadenzas, which do survive, were composed for transcriptions of the works for solo harpsichord and chamber ensemble and so are keyboard-specific. Listening to the magnificent B flat concerto with which the CD culminates, it is astonishing to realize how far music has traveled in just one generation.

D. James Ross