Bach, CPE Keyboard Concertos Wq43
This is a hot CD, one of those releases where everything seems to have arrived together at the right time. Here is the world’s finest Baroque orchestra eagerly joining with one of the world’s best harpsichordists in concertos by a composer who right now seems to be winning new recognition as the giant musical personality he was.
Bach composed over 50 keyboard concertos, of which these are the six he published in Hamburg in 1772, four years after he had moved there from his dispiriting harpsichordist’s post at the Prussian court. The sense of creative release evident in the well-known string symphonies of 1773 is present in these concertos, too, and indeed it is their formal daring that has particularly excited Staier, to judge from the enthusiasm of his booklet-note. Unusual and boldly colliding key relationships, shock dynamic changes and experimental movement layouts rescued from apparent craziness by forward-looking cyclical procedures have Staier understandably likening Bach to Beethoven. Your ears can confirm the truth of the comparison when (for instance) the first movement of No 2 crashes into the start of the second; but Staier’s assessment of the extraordinary No 4 as a one-movement fantasia-concerto anticipating the intellectual processes of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy or Liszt’s B minor Sonata seems no less valid.
Of course, Bach might have done all this and still been boring, and it is true that the concerto genre has not always shown him at his most compelling. That is emphatically not the case here, however, and in any case there is little danger of anything ever sounding dull with these performers. Tautly driven fast movements whipped into shape by precision horns, graceful slower ones warmed by soft flutes and busy but intricately shaped solos are all realised with matchless expertise and an explosive energy to match Bach’s sparky imagination. Staier’s copy of a big Hass harpsichord, which has served him well on recent solo recordings and on which he makes free with the many register combinations, stands up to the superbly boisterous orchestra with ease. Marvellous stuff.