Franz Conrad Löhr’s portrait of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)
Almost two weeks ago the hänssler CLASSIC label released its fifth album of piano concertos composed by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. This project seems to have been conceived by pianist Michael Rische, and it was launched in August of 2011. By the time of Bach’s 300th birthday on March 8, 2014, three albums had been released, each a single CD containing three concertos. The fourth album did not appear until January of 2016. Then at the beginning of this year, hänssler released its 54-CD Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Edition, which appears to be a “complete works” collection. According to the back cover of this box, there are five CDs of piano concertos; so, presumably, last month’s release is the last one of Rische’s piano concerto performances. As of this writing, however, this final volume of the set is only available for download as an MP3 album.
The major Bach anniversary took place during my tenure with Examiner.com. I knew I could not be thorough in accounting for his music. However, I covered many different categories, all with great enthusiasm. That included the 26 CDs of Bach’s complete works for piano solo, recorded by Ana-Marija Markovina for hänssler, along with my following all of Rische’s project. In the wake of all that celebrating, my enthusiasm for “Bach the son” is as strong as ever; and, while I am not sure if time will allow me the luxury of traversing all 54 of the CDs that hänssler has now compiled, I am definitely glad to have filled out this particular concerto collection.
In all of his releases, Rische used the catalog numbers of Alfred Wotquenne to identify the concertos. It is therefore somewhat interesting that he held off on recording the Wq 1 concerto in A minor for this final volume. While Bach had been well trained by his father for the career of a professional musician, this concerto was written in 1733, when Bach was pursuing advanced studies in jurisprudence at the University of Leipzig. One might think that this was a matter of making sure that he would always have a secure “day job;” but the author of his Wikipedia page suggests that his legal credentials would prevent his being treated as a mere servant! The other two concertos on this album were written during his “Berlin period” in service to Frederick the Great. In their order of appearance on the album, Wq 45 in D major was written in 1778; and Wq 15 in E minor was written in 1745.
Given the dates of the concertos, it seems appropriate that Rische is performing with the Berliner Barock Solisten, which he conducts from the keyboard. He plays Bach’s own cadenza in the first movement of Wq 45, but he plays his own cadenzas in the first two movements of Wq 1. As I have often observed, “Bach the son” had a particular talent for expressing himself through vigorous rhetorical gestures; and Rische knows exactly how to present those gestures with just the right touch to keep their energy from overwhelming the entire listening experience. Furthermore, each of the fifteen concertos on these five CDs has its own distinctive voice. Those who traverse the entire collection are likely to come away with a clear understanding of why both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven thought so highly of this member of the Bach family.