Between 1740 and 1768 Bach’s second son by his first marriage, Carl Philipp Emanuel, served as court harpsichordist to Frederick the Great at his various residences in and around Berlin. It was during this period in his life that Emanuel Bach wrote most of his concertos for harpsichord and orchestra. A handful of these have been recorded several times over but the majority of them still remain comparatively or, more often, entirely unfamiliar to concert audiences and record collectors. All the more welcome, then, is a programme such as this which offers us three of his Berlin keyboard concertos, apparently hitherto unrecorded.
Emanuel was a renowned keyboard virtuoso. The English music historian and ‘grand tourist’, Charles Burney, recalled that the composer Hasse had once recommended him to make Bach’s acquaintance, above all to hear him play the clavichord. C. P. E. Bach’s harpsichord concertos are tautly and effectively constructed with an abundance of opportunity, for soloist and orchestra alike, to contribute to the musical argument. The common features are a pronounced vitality, emphasis provided by insistent repeated notes, above all in the bass-line and a feeling, in the outer movements, for flamboyant or extravagant gesture. They are not, on the whole, especially notable for their sustained melodic content, though slow movements especially are not short on melodic ideas. The Concerto in F major is scored for harpsichord, strings and a pair of optional flutes whose presence I can detect only in the slow movement. The B minor Concerto is written for harpsichord with strings only, and the C minor Concerto for harpsichord, strings and a pair of horns.
Ludger Remy, the soloist and director, certainly knows how to bring the music to life. These are vigorous and incisively rhythmic performances which shine, above all, in their outer movements. I found the slow movements just a shade pedestrian though not without an appreciation of those delicate sensibilities which contribute so much to the charm of Emanuel Bach’s idiom. In short a thoroughly worthwhile and mainly satisfying addition to the catalogue. But, as Burney so aptly remarked, a little habit may be required for the enjoyment of it. The accompanying notes are an intriguing blend of fact and fantasy, pretension and erudition.'