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Hyperion Records

SACDA67307 - Bach: The Keyboard Concertos, Vol. 1
Morning in the Mountains by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)
Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia / Bridgeman Art Library, London
SACDA67307

Recording details: February 2005
Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Australia
Produced by Ludger Böckenhoff
Engineered by Ludger Böckenhoff
Release date: June 2005
Total duration: 76 minutes 53 seconds

GRAMOPHONE EDITOR'S CHOICE
CD OF THE MONTH (Gramophone)
CLASSICAL CD OF THE WEEK (The Sunday Times)
ALBUM OF THE WEEK (Musicweek)
CLASSICAL CD OF THE WEEK (The Daily Telegraph)
DISC OF THE MONTH (Classic FM Magazine)

The Keyboard Concertos, Vol. 1

This disc and its companion SACDA67308 contain all Bach’s extant concertos that feature a solo keyboard. Most were written in the 1730s and are thought to be arrangements of earlier concertos, many of which are now lost (though two will be recognized as Bach’s E major and A minor violin concertos and the sixth is an arrangement of the fourth Brandenburg). The fifth Brandenburg Concerto, with harpsichord, flute and violin soloists, dates from 1721 and is generally regarded as the first concerto for a solo keyboard instrument ever written. Bach made the keyboard part particularly brilliant and included a huge cadenza; he certainly knew how to establish a genre with a bang!

Hewitt’s Bach is by now self-recommending but only after playing Bach across the world with numerous ensembles did Angela decide that the Australian Chamber Orchestra were the perfect collaborators. After a month of concerts across Australia these recordings were set down in Sydney in February of this year and the frisson of artists operating at the peak of their form is clear for all to hear. One is immediately struck by the quality of chamber-music playing as phrases are passed from soloist to orchestra and, in the case of Brandenburg Concerto No 5 and the Triple Concerto, between all three soloists. Rhythms are buoyant, tempos lively, the spirit of dance is never far away in the fast movements and a perfectly vocal quality pervades the sung lines of the slow movements.

These CDs will surely be the jewels in the crown of Angela Hewitt’s magnificent Bach series.


Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
When Johann Sebastian Bach left his post as Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen in 1723 to go to the more prestigious city of Leipzig as Kantor of the Thomaskirche, he had no idea of the troubles that awaited him there. In Cöthen he had spent six very happy years composing mainly instrumental music, including the Brandenburg Concertos, the first volume of the Well-tempered Clavier, and the French Suites. He had, however, hesitated before accepting the new position, as the switch from Kapellmeister (director of music) to Kantor (director of church music) was a step downwards in status, but he knew that Leipzig would be a better place to educate his children. His first wife had died suddenly in 1720, leaving him with three sons and a daughter (three others, including twins, had died in infancy), but a year later he married Anna Magdalena Wilcken, a professional singer sixteen years his junior, and the mother-to-be of thirteen more Bachs. Although his income increased with the move to Leipzig, the high cost of living in that city made it difficult for such a large family. As part of his duties as Kantor and Director Musices, Bach was responsible for music at Leipzig’s four major churches and in the choir school, at the university, and on civic occasions. None of the authorities of these institutions appreciated Bach’s genius (one of them even dared to say that Bach showed ‘little inclination to work’), and their penny-pinching and narrow-mindedness were a constant source of annoyance.

It was therefore no doubt with great pleasure that Bach accepted, in 1729 at the age of forty-four, the post of director of the Collegium Musicum, a music society founded in 1702 at Leipzig University by Georg Philipp Telemann. It consisted of a talented group of music students that was probably augmented by professionals when needed. Their concerts were held in the popular surroundings of Zimmermann’s Coffee House, where people came together to smoke, drink and listen to pleasant music. In summer, they played outdoors. Surely it was especially crowded during the spring and fall when Leipzig played host to many foreign merchants who came for the fairs.

These informal concerts must have been a happy contrast for Bach to the endless problems at the Thomaskirche. He remained director for the next ten years, composing many secular instrumental works during this time. After that time was up, he turned his attention towards composing his ‘summation works’: the B minor Mass, the ‘Goldberg’ Variations, the Musical Offering, and the Art of Fugue.

The seven keyboard concertos were composed during the final years of his directorship of the Collegium Musicum, although many exist in other forms that probably originated in Cöthen. Before 1710, Bach had copied out works in concerto form by both Albinoni and Telemann (his favourite way to learn new things), and during the next few years adapted concertos by Vivaldi, Torelli, Marcello and others. It is not known whether he composed his own concertos during his stay in Weimar (1708–1717), although the Preludes to the English Suites show to what extent he had absorbed the Italian concerto style. His first known works in this genre are the famous Brandenburg Concertos, dating from 1721. They were written in Cöthen, and presented to the Margrave of Brandenburg, Christian Ludwig, from whom Bach was possibly seeking employment. The Margrave left them to gather dust, but, fortunately for us, they were picked up at his death in 1734 by Bach’s pupil, Kirnberger.

It is said that if we sat down and copied out all of the music Bach wrote it would take us a lifetime. Yet he was composing it as well. So it is no wonder that from time to time he borrowed from himself. Such is the case with the keyboard concertos. If an original version has not been handed down to us (for instance, the A minor Violin Concerto became the G minor Keyboard Concerto; the E major Violin Concerto was turned into the D major Keyboard Concerto; and so on), then there probably was one but it has been lost. Concerto movements also ended up in cantatas, often with florid parts being added to an already busy original. This recycling is one of the arguments I use to defend the performance of Bach on the modern piano. If he could write for violin, oboe or voice a singing, melodic line that would have its natural inflections, phrasing, and rise and fall, then why would he not have wanted to hear it on a keyboard instrument that was capable of doing the same thing (since the harpsichord could not)?

Note on the use of continuo:
On this recording we have done something slightly unusual (although certainly it has been done before). To better distinguish between the solo and tutti passages, we have decided to use a harpsichord in its traditional role as continuo. The baroque orchestra is not complete without it, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be part of a modern-day recording, even when the piano is used as the solo instrument. Of course in Bach’s time the solo harpsichord acted simultaneously as continuo, although there is evidence that another one could have been used as continuo along with a theorbo (a bass lute). When used sensibly, the harpsichord adds the appropriate colour to the orchestra without interfering in any way with the solo part. It is also then able to take over the purely continuo passages that sound ‘wrong’ played on the piano. This is especially evident in the Brandenburg Concerto No 5 where the piano is used only as soloist, but also at the beginning and end of the slow movement of the A major Keyboard Concerto (see volume 2, CDA67308).

Angela Hewitt © 2005

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