BACH, J.S.: Harpsichord Concertos, Vol. 2 (Christine Pichlmeier/ Christoph Anselm Noll/ Cologne Chamber Orchestra/ Elisabeth Kufferath/ Gerald Hambitzer/ Helmut Muller-Bruhl/ Michael Behringer/ Robert Hill/ Winfried Rademacher) (Naxos: 8.554605)
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Johann Sebastian Bach(1685-1750): Complete Orchestral Works
Volume 4: HarpsichordConcertos II
It seems that only a relatively small part of Bach's orchestral ceuvrehas been preserved for posterity. Much has been speculated about thereasons for the above-average losses in this particular field, but up till nowno really conclusive reasons have been found. The fact that so few works forinstrumental ensemble have survived particularly from the Weimar and Cothen periods,during which the composer directed so many excellent ensembles, has led manyresearchers to the hypothesis that Bach was obliged to leave the majority ofhis compositions in these places when he moved on to another post - a commoncustom for which much evidence can be found in many eighteenth centurydocuments; other considerations establish a connection with the distribution ofBach's compositions to his heirs after his death. Whatever the case, only onething is certain: that at the latest with Bach's death a veil of oblivion beganto sink over his orchestral works - partly caused also by a profound change intaste which began in the middle of the eighteenth century. Thus great effortwas necessary in the course of the Bach renaissance at the beginning of thenineteenth century to win back these works, which by then were completelyunknown even to Bach connoisseurs, into the performance repertoire.
Today Bach's orchestral works enjoy an enduring popularity once more.
Intensive study of this repertoire, which in spite of the regrettable gaps isin many ways incomparable, has led to the realization that only a part of theworks can be regarded as original compositions, whereas many of the concertosin the form in which they are known today represent transcriptions of pieceswritten earlier. Among the works of the first-named category are the BrandenburgConcertos and the three Violin Concertos, among the transcriptionsare all the concertos for one to three harpsichords, which are presumed to bebased on lost works for various melody instruments. The Concerto for fourharpsichords, BWV 1065 is a special case in that Bach did not take one ofhis own works as a basis but, exceptionally, a work by Antonio Vivaldi.
Comparative studies on Bach's technique of rearranging works have led again andagain to speculations about the possible form and structure of the lost workson which the arrangements are based, and as a consequence to attempts atreconstruction which have resulted in pieces which are stylistically convincingand which have proved their worth in practice; within the context of thisrecording these works are intended to help fill the gaps mentioned above.
The present complete recording of Bach's orchestral works illustratesgraphically the enormous musical variety and compositional quality of thissphere of his creative work. We meet the composer for the first time around1715 on his first pinnacle of mastery (Brandenburg Concerto No. 5) andaccompany him for approximately a quarter of a century up to the sublime worksof his maturity - the Overture BWV 1067 and the Triple Concerto BWV1044.
Bach's concertos areset about with more unanswered questions and stubborn problems than most of theother genres in his ceuvre. In the very first catalogue of his works,published in 1754 in the context of the obituary drawn up by Carl PhilippEmanuel Bach and Johann Friedrich Agricola, one entry merely mentions"Various Concertos for 1, 2, 3 and 4 harpsichords" and concludes withthe sweeping generalisation "a large amount of other instrumental works ofall kinds and for all manner of instruments", which presumably means allBach's chamber music and orchestral works which were available at the time. Ifone takes into consideration that, during his years as chamber musician andlater as concert-master to Duke Wilhelm Ernst and Duke Ernst August ofSaxe-Weimar (1709-1717) and above all as master of music at the court of PrinceLeopold of Anhalt-Cothen (1718-1723), Bach was responsible for many years forthe repertoire of first-class ensembles, then it is astonishing that hardly anycompositions have been proved to originate from this time, for the concertosknown today - apart from the Brandenburg Concertos - belong for the most partto the Leipzig period (1723-1750). However, many of the lost concertos havebeen preserved, at least in substance, in the concertos for one or severalharpsichords; for it seems that Bach exclusively used concertos for melodyinstruments composed earlier for these works.
The Concerto inD major BWV 1054 is based on the Violin Concerto in E major BWV 1042,which was presumably written during Bach's term of office at the court ofCothen. In the later version Bach changed numerous details of the solo part aswell as of the accompanying parts. The variety of motivic ideas, some of themused for development and some for contrast, which are worked into a compacttexture and dominate above all the first movement, is conveyed to the listenerin the harpsichord transcription in a very singular way. Thus the harpsichordversion can be seen on equal terms with the violin version as a realization ofthe same musical material. The analagous transcription of the A minorViolin Concerto can be found in the Harpsichord Concerto in G minorBWV 1058. This version also makes certain structural characteristics appear ina new light. In listening to and comparing both versions one is led to a deeperunderstanding of Bach's concept of creativity.
The Concerto inD minor BWV 1063 for three harpsichords is an extremely individual work.
The history of its composition is completely obscure, and there are extremelydivergent hypotheses about possible works on which it could be based. Accordingto an older tradition, which can possibly be traced back to Bach's school orfamily circles, Bach is said to have written the work for himself and his twoeldest sons, in order to give them the opportunity "to train themselves inall manner of performance". This would suggest a date of compositionaround 1730, i.e. immediately before Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl PhilippEmanuel Bach left their father's home. This information does not however, explain thestrange heterogeneity of the composition and the way the solo instrument istreated differently in all three movements, which leads one to think of apastiche made up of works of different origins, as is the case with the TripleConcerto BWV 1044. Bach displays in this work his sovereign mastery and atthe same time free treatment of the concerto form perfected by Vivaldi, whichexpresses itself in the first movement in a motivically dense development whichin several places breaks down the boundaries between solo episode andritornello; at the entry of the last ritornello, the climax of themovement the ritornello themes and the virtuoso figurations of the firstharpsichord are interwoven with one another. The second movement - uniquely inBach's concerto ceuvre - is a simple binary dance movement with variedrecapitulations, whereas the final movement displays the more frequently foundform of the concerto fugue.
The Concerto BWV 1064 - the sister work to BWV 1063 - haslikewise survived only in a version for three harpsichords and orchestra (in Cmajor), but today it is unanimously accepted that this is the arrangement of alost concerto for three violins in D major. Since the harpsichord part in thisconcerto still allows the pre?¡sumed original work to shine through in manyplaces, its reconstruction did