This disc is titled "The Bach Dynasty," and the amusing cover photograph depicts what must be preparations for an outing by the Bach family: a modern-day picnic table, several place settings, a loaf of bread, and a cardboard carton of milk! The intention behind this release seems to be the introduction of two of Bach's sons to listeners who might not already be familiar with them. I thought that train had left already, but perhaps it's true that some people haven't yet experienced the deliciousness that is the music of Bach's sons!
Fortunately, the performances on this CD are equally delicious, and stylistically appropriate too. Carl Philipp Emanuel's cello concerto – it also exists in versions for flute and harpsichord – is a tuneful delight. It might be that some people actually are turned off by Papa Bach's penchant for counterpoint. This cello concerto is not difficult to wrap one's brain around: two jolly fast movements (indeed, the finale almost seems to giggle) frame an expansive, gloomily melodic middle movement. The three-movement Symphony in C, a much later work, is the third in a distinguished set of six, and is well within the Classical tradition. Stylistically, it is similar to some of Franz Joseph Haydn's early symphonies, and it is not inferior to the same in terms of quality. Would it be an exaggeration to call its mood manic-depressive?
Wilhelm Friedemann was Johann Sebastian's first son, and appears to have been the one on whom his father pinned the most hopes. (Whether these hopes were well-founded is open to question, however. Arguably, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian surpassed Wilhelm Friedemann as a composer.) The flute concerto was composed around 1775, more or less the same time that Carl Philipp Emanuel composed the preceding symphony. It is interesting to compare the two works. If the symphony is a very personal work, the flute concerto is, if not impersonal, then at least more conscious of its intended audience and more willing to gratify it. Like a Greek statue, it's music that is beautifully proportioned.
The harpsichord concerto by Papa Bach that opens this disc is not one of the canonical set. That is because it is a work that has had to be reconstructed, as very little of it is extant. However, it appears that Bach was creating this concerto out of movements from his Cantata #35, so it is not impossible to finish the job for him - which has been done here. Some recordings insert a slow middle movement, although it usually is nothing more than a transitional cadence. Rousset doesn't bother with that here, which is just as well.
Rousset has proven himself to be an excellent Bach player in his many recordings as a harpsichordist, and he is no less satisfying here. Although these are unexaggerated readings, they are not lacking in ideas about the music. Specifically, Rousset seems to be interested in pointing out the differences among the three Bachs represented here, as well as the similarities, but he is not overbearing about it. Les Talens Lyriques, founded by Rousset in 1991, hardly limits itself to music of the French Baroque, and it tailors its sound very nicely to this repertoire. The soloists acquit themselves very well, without bringing the "star quality" to the works that others have. This really is an ensemble disc. Nice, warm engineering.
Copyright © 2008, Raymond Tuttle