Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, March 26, 2018

From intimate to cinematic, in the composer's authentic voice


C. P. E. Bach: Sacred Choral Music

Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach was not an actual time traveler, though you might think so when you hear music from this 5-CD set that provides music sounding as if it came from different times in the 18th century. Capriccio has put together recordings going back to the mid-1980s from Hermann Max's Rheinische Kantorei and Das Kleine Konzert, filled in with a 2002 recording of the Magnificat by Michael Schneider's Dresdner Kammerchor and La Stagione Frankfurt. Here are the works included:


When I began listening to this music I admit to wondering how much of a slog it might be. Instead it was a case of one felicitous movement after another; not every bit, to be sure, but CPE was hitting at a pretty high rate! Not all this music has the energy and forward movement of the famous Gloria from the Magnificat, but the composer is often nearly as much a master of the intimate aria and the erudite fugue as his father. The Magnificat itself was written in 1849, early enough for Johann Sebastian to hear it before he died the next year. There are striking similarities with the work J.S. Bach wrote 25 years earlier, but sections sounding more like Mozart and Haydn as well. This isn't surprising considering that CPE tinkered with this work until the 1786, just before his death.

The best work here, I think, is Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu (The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus), written in 1777/78. Though there are echoes of both JS Bach, Telemann and Handel, not to mention much that was reminiscent of Haydn, after three discs of his sacred music I was beginning to get a feel for CPE's authentic voice. There's an intimate feeling to so much of his sacred vocal music, but here he's added much more drama. Jeremy Grimshaw talks about CPE Bach's "almost cinematic shifts of mood", though perhaps this is in the more measured style of Paul Thomas Anderson rather than the more obvious Steven Spielberg.

Though no longer at the cutting edge of Historically Informed Performance, these recordings have the more relaxed sound of musicians at ease with their period instruments and singing practice. This is stylishly played and sung, well captured by the WDR engineers, and the entire package is very much recommended. I'll end with praise for the cover design, which features this marvellous photograph of nuns in Rome, by alfonstr (Fotalia).


This disc will be released on April 6, 2018.

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