Let the musicologists and other critics analyze, discuss, and debate C.P.E. Bach’s role as a Baroque/Classical, Classical/Romantic transitional figure–meanwhile the rest of us will simply enjoy the pure delight of “the Hamburg Bach’s” music, exemplified in these five vibrant, curiously inventive, infinitely attractive, continuously surprising works. Let others worry about form–or lack thereof–or which style a particular work represents; the real pleasure comes with the listening. A great place to begin is with the E-flat major symphony (No. 2), where Bach’s knack for weaving together a dazzling array of seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive and colorful if sometimes quirky fabric is on full display. The stop and start rhythmic/melodic patterns of the first movement are followed by the ardent emotion of the second, concluding with an energetic, Haydn-esque finale, which alternates emphatic, firm-footed rhythms with swirling string figures and delicately uttered asides by a few instruments. The cello concerto is a gem, a substantial work (20 minutes) that offers the soloist plenty of clever challenges in the fast movements while providing a slow movement of astonishing expressive intensity that transcends time, place, and stylistic formality. You will definitely want to hear this more than a few times.
These pieces have been treated fairly well on disc, but no other performances surpass those of Andrew Manze and his orchestra, who simply have tremendous fun with Bach’s uniquely personable creations, highlighting and enlivening every twist and turn, start and stop, reveling in moments where, say, a driving tutti is suddenly interrupted by a delicate flute duet. In the concerto, Alison McGillivray’s confident, dynamic cello work is complemented by her instrument’s rich, warm tone (tuned a whole step lower than in Miklós Perényi’s brighter but equally lovely rendition from the early 1990s–for a review, type Q2249 in Search Reviews). And again, the slow movement is an unforgettable highlight. (Incidentally, for those who pay attention to such things, the packaging contains a timing error for the slow movement of Symphony No. 4–it’s short by about three minutes.)
In sum, this is a disc that’s easy to recommend for its consistently engaging music and first-rate performances–but it’s also a recording that you can turn way up and enjoy full-bodied, undistorted, viscerally present instrumental sound. A winner! [9/7/2006]