Rische’s Excellent C.P.E. Bach Concerti

cover - HC19041

C.P.E. BACH: Piano Concerti in D, Wq. 11; in c min., Wq. 43/4; in e min., Wq. 24 / Michael Rische, pno; Berlin Baroque Soloists / Hännsler Classic CD HC19041

Hänssler Classic and German pianist Michael Rische have apparently embarked on a series of CDs featuring the amazing piano concerti of C.P.E. Bach. I don’t know if they plan to record all of them, as Miklós Spányi has done for Bis, or merely a good cross-section as Bob van Asperen did for Warner Classics, but the early returns are certainly promising.

Although the Berlin Baroque Soloists play with straight tone, they do so in a very lively manner, with a bright string tone that is attractive and invigorating, and Rische uses what sounds like a standard piano rather than the fortepianos, tangent pianos etc. that Spányi and van Asperen used. This gives the music a nice richness of sound that I liked immensely, and his instrument is recorded well forward which gives it a nice balance against the string ensemble.

What always surprises me with C.P.E.’s piano concerti is how modern even the early ones sound. On this disc, the concerto Wq. 11 was written in 1743 and the concerto Wq. 24 in 1748, both when his father was still alive and when he himself was still in the employ of Frederick the Great, forced to write endless flute pieces which, while well crafted, were far more conservative in style by order of the King and in whose employ he stayed (undoubtedly for the financial security) until 1768. Although it is true that these two early concerti were not quite as harmonically advanced as his later ones, they already show a breaking-away from the rigorous structures prevalent in his time, in part those of his father. Indeed, the highest compliment I can pay to C.P.E. is that these concerti, as well as those which followed as well as his symphonies, really don’t sound like anyone else in his time. Even the slow movements have a certain depth of feeling that look forward to the early Romantic movement despite the use of a relatively small string orchestra rather than a full symphony with brass and winds. Moreover, his surprising and often astonishing use of harmony as well as the stop-start feeling even in the fast movements are features that no other composer, even in the Romantic era, used to such a high degree. These concerti, and many others like them, sound like something written by an early 20th-century composer emulating the Baroque style without copying it. The man was truly a genius.

If there is any caveat I may have of this album or its predecessors and would-be successors, it is simply that the series is several years too late in its inception. Even with the use of multiple instruments, including a harpsichord, in the Spányi series, his performances are also quite exemplary, in part due to the enlivened conducting of Péter Szűts with his Concerto Armonico. My long-time readers know how I have raved about these recordings in my earlier reviews, including several for a well-known classical music magazine. Had these Rische recordings begun appearing around the same time, I would clearly have given them equal attention and perhaps even preferred them, but the mere thought of chucking out Spányi-Szűts to make room for Rische simply appalls me. It is not something that I have the energy or the inclination to do, despite the fact that Rische plays with some interesting rubato touches that Spányi does not use.

And you might feel the same way, but if you don’t have most of the Spányi set, by all means start collecting Rische’s performances. They are truly remarkable in every way and do full justice to C.P.E.’s quirky-but-brilliant musical mind. Highly recommended for what it is.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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