Sunday 9 March 2014

CPE Bach Magnificat

CPE Bach - Magnificat, Heilig ist Gott, Sinfonie in D Major - HMC 902167
CPE Bach - Magnificat, Heilig ist Gott, Sinfonie in D Major: Hans-Christoph Rademann, RIAS Kammerchor, Akademie fur alte Musik Berlin: Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 9 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Brilliant and satisfying survey of CPE Bach's later career based on his own 1786 concert programme

For much of his lifetime, CPE Bach was the Bach his pre-eminence with his contemporaries outshining that of his father. His music was an important influence on Mozart, yet it has generally fallen from sight. The composer's 300th anniversary is a welcome chance to explore. In 1786, the 72 year old CPE Bach conducted a charity concert in Hamburg which contained three of his finest works. This new disc on Harmonia Mundi from Hans-Christoph Rademann, the RIAS Kammerchor and Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin recreates that concert by recording CPE Bach's Magnificat Wq 215, Heilig ist Gott Wq 217, and Sinfonie D-Dur Wq 183/1, with soloists soprano Elizabeth Watts, alto Wiebke Lehmkuhl, tenor Lothar Odinius and bass Markus Eiche.

On Palm Sunday 1786, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach conducted a charity concert for the benefit of the Medizinisches Armeninstitut (an association of doctors treating the impoverished free of charge). The concert began with the Credo from CPE Bach's father's Mass in B Minor, then two movements from Handel's Messiah. The second half consisted of three of CPE Bach's own works covering a large span of his career; the Sinfonie in D Dur  (published in 1780), the Magnificat (written in 1749) and Heilig ist Gott (written in 1776).

CPE Bach's Magnificat Wq 215 was written in 1749 in the hope of getting his father's job as Kantor in Leipzig. It is clearly inspired by JSB's Magnificat but with a heavy admixture of more modern sensibilities. CPE Bach was still harpsichordist to Frederick the Great of Prussia when he wrote it, but as his first large-scale choral work it demonstrates his capabilities. The opening Magnificat anima mea Dominum places a mainly homophonic chorus over a busy accompaniment. Here the busy strings of the Akademi fur Alte Music are briskly vivid and the choir makes the piece dramatically expressive. Rademann's speed is quite fast, and the whole movement impresses.

The soprano aria, Quia respexit humilitatem is rather more relaxed. A quite strong and characterful accompaniment complements Elizabeth Watts' nicely warm-toned and relaxed solo line, where some initially discreet ornamentation develops into a lovely, fluidly elaborate line. A crisp, brisk string introduction leads to the rather dramatic tenor solo Quia fecit mihi magna, with Lothar Odinius providing a fine, bright tenor solo though I did wonder whether his runs could be cleaner. In this movement, as elsewhere, you can't help but hear JSB's setting running in the background.

The fabulously expressive chorus, Et misericordia eius, is far more Mozart than JSB. The choral singing here is expressive and beautifully controlled.

For the bass aria Recit potentiam in bracchio suo we get the addition of trumpets and drums in a very rhythmically appealing movement. Markus Eiche's vibrant bass copes with both the dramatic leaps, the declamation and the runs. The sense of contrast between vocals and accompaniment returns with Deposuit potentes de sede with a lyrical duet for alto and tenor (Wiebke Lehmkuhl and Lothar Odinius) supported by a vigorous string accompaniment, though the second section of the duet has the strings calm down creating a more lyrical effect. Lehmkuhl's solo Suscepit Israel puerum suum is a rather lovely, Mozartian number, both slower and more contemplative. The accompaniment includes some lovely recorder playing, complementing Lehmkuhl's finely focussed dark alto voice.

The Gloria Patrie Filio is a brilliant number with trumpets and drums, the busy strings supporting a more homophonic chorus part. Then for the final number, Sictu erat in principio, CPE Bach produces a pair of fugues clearly in emulation of his father. A great end to a very appealing work.

Heilig is Gott, Wq 217 is a short but truly wondrous German motet written in 1776 as perhaps CPE Bach's swansong in the genre. For the text CPE Bach uses the sixth chapter of the Book of Isaiah in which the prophet has a vision of the Lord sitting upon a throne.

The short alto Ariette, Herr, wert, dass Scharen der Engel is a long way towards Mozart with a characterful accompaniment plus an expressively lyrical solo from Lehmkuhl. Then in the main chorus, Heilig, heilig, heilig ist Gott we have the sort of loud/soft alternation beloved of CPE Bach but here used to magical effect with the massive chorus of the people echoing the quieter chorus of angels, concluding with a glorious fugal section in which all sorts of busy-ness surrounds a basic chorale tune, which is from the German Te Deum. This piece astonished its first listeners and deserves a far wider audience and Rademann and his forces certainly give it the care and attention it deserves.

The disc finishes with CPE Bach's symphony from 1780, Sinfonie in D Dur Wq 183 a three movement work, with the usual fast, slow, fast movements. The opening Allegro alternates a very Mozartian vigour with quieter moments, the dramatically thrilling with more quieter expressive. We have superbly crisp playing from the orchestra here, with lovely attack and fabulous passagework. The Largo is a gently affecting movement with some lovely flute playing. The Presto finale is short but fascinating, with briskly crisp and gently confiding moments.

The CD booklet has a fine article by Peter Wollny, plus full texts and translations. My only complaint is that at 56 minutes, it is a tad on the short side.

This disc gives us a superb overview of CPE Bach's later career, focussing on three works which he clearly thought well of. Rademann and his forces do more than rescue a forgotten composer, they give us performances which are really engaging. Do try it.

CPE Bach (1714 - 1788) - Magnificat Wq 215 (1749)
CPE Bach (1714 - 1788) - Heilig ist Gott Wq 217 (1776)
CPE Bach (1714 - 1788) - Sinfonie D-Dur Wq 183/1 (1780)
RIAS Kammerchor
Akademi fur Alte Musik Berlin
Hans-Christoph Rademann
Recorded November 2011, Teldex Studio Berlin
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902167 1CD [56.05]
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