Konzerte für 2 Cembali
I once remembered reading that Johann Sebastian Bach had "invented the piano concerto." That statement was a strange one, but it was with Bach (and also Handel) that we first saw keyboard instruments moving from the back of the orchestra (in a role as continuo) to the front. Examples from Bach include the Triple Concerto, BWV 1044, the fifth Brandenburg Concerto (BWV 1050), and the concertos for solo, two, three, and four harpsichords. These ultimate concertos were believed to have been especially prepared for use at the Leipzig coffee house owned by Zimmermann, and while university students were likely members of this ensemble, we have to think that Bach's two sons, CPE and WF Bach, may have been a part of this ensemble.
My fascination with Musica Antiqua Köln, which disbanded back in 2007, has endured most of my music listening life. Among my favorite recordings include their Bach Brandenburgs, their Bach Art of Fugue, and their Telemann Musique de Table. 1986 marked the year of their release of the Brandeburg Concertos and 1990 was Goebel’s recording of the Biber Rosenkranz sonatas. Until this past week in New York, however, I’d never owned the 1986 release of the Bach sons double harpsichord concertos. I feel this period was a golden age of the ensemble so my expectations were high.
Andreas Staier and Robert Hill are featured. This music is newer than baroque, and MAK assembled in a larger format than the chamber ensemble that started in the 1970s. They’d come again to these sizes with their Heinichen recordings. They really embrace the galante style well in the first concerto in F by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Large punctuated chords by the full orchestra are shocking. Such effects were in Vivaldi’s music, but until this period, I can’t imagine the sound being this awesome. The third movement uses horns to great effect, resembling the hunting motives in J.S Bach’s first Brandenburg concerto. The chosen tempo is athletically fast, which I both admire and expect from Goebel.
The middle piece is a “Sonata” for two harpsichords, which for the album, is nice, so that we can appreciate the artistry of both musicians, not to mention the sound of two harpsichords by themselves. The slow middle movement is built upon a simple motif, and it is not difficult to imagine the canvas of sound being richly enhanced by comfortable, confident musicians. Hill and Staier restrain themselves, but the piece is evidence of Bach family culture of music for multiple keyboards.
Timpani and trumpets bring a ceremonial pomp to the final concerto in E-flat. Written during his father’s lifetime, I would have loved to know what J.S. Bach thought of the style of this piece.
This release for me was a good find. The two orchestral concertos are new to me, as was the “concerto” for two solo instruments. The interpretations and sound quality were of equally high note. Has certainly worn well over time.