CPE BACH Piano Concertos WQ1, 45 & 15
This is a disc to reinforce my feeling that Emanuel Bach’s keyboard concertos are notoriously hard to bring off on the modern piano. Michael Rische certainly has the technique for the coruscating passagework in the fiery E minor Concerto, Wq15, most eccentric of the three works here. But his robust fluency in the Allegros and generalised sensitivity in the slow movements are not enough in music that needs greater subtlety of touch and timing if it is to work on the piano.
‘It’s all too loud and beefy’ was my initial jotting during the opening movement of the A minor, Wq1, first of Emanuel’s 50 odd keyboard concertos. The problem remained throughout the disc. Close miking and the resonant church acoustic do Rische no favours, and inflate the sonority of the expert modern-instrument orchestra, based on just 12 strings. But if the recording is hardly ideal, I sense no real imaginative engagement with concertos that only fitfully show CPE at his best. In Rische’s hands the ubiquitous repeated-note bass lines plod or chug; and time and again phrases just seem to happen, without any discernible shaping or connection with what precedes and follows. A lighter, more playful touch, from soloist and orchestra, would have done wonders for the galant outer movements of the late D major Concerto, Wq45, which here jog rather earnestly.
Rische’s obvious rival in these concertos is the indefatigable Miklós Spányi in his complete CPE Bach series for BIS, playing on the kinds of instruments Bach would have known. Figuration that too easily sounds mechanical on the piano becomes brilliant and idiomatic on the harpsichord or fortepiano. Beyond that, Spányi brings to this music a verve, sparkle and sense of fantasy barely glimpsed in Rische’s dutiful performances.