Monday, June 15, 2015

C.P.E. Bach - Concerto for Flute and Orchestra in D Minor - Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in A Major - Orchestre de Chambre Dirige Par, Pierre Boulez - Pierre Rampal, Flute - Robert Bex, Cello - H.M. 1979/1994

I am absolutely nuts for Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. He had a genius all his own, and although his music is highly admired by many, he is still underappreciated. C.P.E. was the greatest Bach after his father J.S., and he was a true maverick who practically bridged the baroque and (yet-to-come) classical realms, with an entirely unique style that was full of surprises and ahead of it's time. I cannot think of a single work, like his father J.S. Bach, that I do not like. His well-known Flute Concerto in D Minor is a masterful and gorgeous example of his musical personality. This recording on Harmonia Mundi (which has been rereleased many times over the years) with Rampal on Flute and Pierre Boulez directing is still the finest that I know of; it is fiery perfection from the very first bar, with lush elegance taking over in the slow movement and excitement and passion not unlike the opening movement once again in the last movement. The first movement of the Concerto in D Minor is one of my favorites of all time (as is the first movement from J.S. Bach's towering Concerto for Two Violins, BWV 1043) and does it for me every single time-the first movement especially that is-the entire work is out of this world needless to say!

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Flute Concerto in D Minor resembles in outward respects the three movement concerti of his famous father, Johann Sebastian: it is in the standard succession of three movements, fast-slow-fast; it alternates statements by the orchestra with solo passages featuring the flute; and it allows scope for both lyricism and virtuosity on the part of the soloist. The model for all of these features is the Baroque solo concerto as refined by Vivaldi and reinterpreted by J.S. Bach.

-The interior aspects of C.P.E. Bach's concerto, however, are quite new. In order to grasp the profound differences between the work of father and son, it is necessary to jump into the intellectual ferment of the mid-eighteenth century. The Concerto in D Minor is based on a new psychology, the concept of being sensitive to the stimulus of the moment. In this way of thinking, the music acquires a new freedom to change moods, subtly or abruptly, within a short compositional span. This is in marked contrast to the music of J.S. Bach, in which each movement of a composition tends to etch a unified picture and to eschew sudden diversions.

Daniel Webb, a contemporary of C.P.E. Bach, summarized the new aesthetic well when he described the normal human response to stimulus. He asserted that one's reception of pleasure is "not, as some have imagined, the result of any fixed or permanent condition of the nerves and spirits, but springs from a succession of impressions, and is greatly augmented by sudden or gradual transitions from one kind or strain of vibrations to another." It would be difficult to find a more apt metaphor for describing the difference in outlook between the elder and younger Bachs.

By 1747, C.P.E. Bach's fame as a composer had eclipsed that of his father. Any mention of "Bach" as a composer would automatically have been taken to refer to Carl Philipp Emanuel or to his half-brother Johann Christian. Several of the musical traits that made C.P.E. Bach's music seem so fresh appear in the Concerto. In the electrifying opening (Allegro) angular, jumping melodic lines vie with falling, "sighing" passages to create a "succession of impressions", indeed going "from one kind or strain of vibrations to another." C.P.E. Bach's employer, Frederick the Great, was a fine amateur flutist who should particularly have appreciated the slow movement (Un poco andante), with its melody rich in surface ornamentation, like the splendid decoration in the very room where Bach would have accompanied Frederick. The spirited finale (Allegro di molto) creates a storm that looks back to the tempests of Vivaldi's Four Seasons while pointing the way toward a future Storm and Stress style of a later generation of composers.

Carl Philipp Emanuel's three cello concertos were written at a time when the genre was pretty thin on the ground. They were written between 1750 and 1753, when the cello was still more of an accompanying than a solo instrument. With the exception of the Vivaldi concertos, and the pioneering six Suites for unaccompanied cello by C.P.E. Bach’s father, there was not much solo cello repertoire to build on. These concertos too demonstrate C.P.E.'s originality as a composer, and also the wide emotional range for which his music became famous. 

The A major starts off flighty and capricious, with a characteristically bouncy orchestral ritornello. The second movement features carefully contrasted dynamics from the orchestra; the lamenting solo allows for truly beautiful legato playing. The finale is a high-spirited affair, as energetic as those of the Haydn symphonies.



Joan Tallada said...

Tzadik, you have to admit that the hot issue here is not CPE Bach per se but CPE Bach conducted by... Boulez! I never imagined the French enfant terrible would have ever recorded anything produced before Wagner. What is your assessement?

theblueamos said...

Thank you dear T Z.This comes to work with me tomorrow. Be good. All the best.

Tzadik said...

Ha...indeed you are correct Joan! I scratched my head in a state of puzzlement myself when I first discovered this recording years ago; that's what motivated me to buy it. What I know is that Boulez
started a concert series called "Domaine Musical" in Paris around 1954, and it was based on three tenets: the "references" (early musical figures like Dufay, Gesualdo and later pioneers like Bach); "great contemporaries" (composers of the first half of the 20th century that remained virtually un-performed in France like Bartok, Varese, Schoenberg, Webern and Berg); and then Boulez's own generation (born around 1925.

The very first concert "Domaine Musical" presented had this program: Bach’s "Musical Offering", and works by Webern, Stockhausen(!) and Nono, culminating in Stravinsky’s Renard... hmm

And then, in the early 60's, this concert series culminated into a group founded by Boulez, called "Le Domaine Musical", and they continued to play contemporary music mixed with early music by the Bach family, Dufay, Guillaume de Machaut etc. etc...unusual music for the time to say the least. There are historic recordings of the ensemble playing mostly contemporary works, including first performances and so on.. I can post them but I dunnoo how much interest there is for the majority of visitors here..


Tzadik said...

Hiya there Blue-I hope CPE made work a tad brighter yesterday :) I just love this disc.
CPE's music was genius and truly he deserves MUCH more credit and consideration, even
with all the available recordings out there.


michaeleurope said...

Just saw this - thanks Tzadik! I would indeed be interested in other recordings of "earlier" works made by Boulez at the Domaine Musical series. As for the CPE album, what fun! Is there any info on who the musicians - referred to variously (depending on the issue) as l'orchestre de chambre or lorchestre a cordes - were? A pick up group? An ensemble that emerged with an official name at some point...? Just curious.

Tzadik said...

Hi, michaeleurope

You are welcome, and i thank you for commenting. I have the early works volumes but they are almost *all* recordings historic of the modern pieces by Boulez and that crowd. Conducted by the composers themselves mostly. -If you meant you would like to hear the Domaine Musical performances specifically of early music (Dufay etc.) that's harder to come by. I don't recall if there's any early music performances on the historic volumes I have-have to check!