C.P.E. Bach, who in his time was hailed as the best and most original member of the Bach family, composed three cello concertos, all collected here. They were also arranged for flute and harpsichord, and no-one quite knows which version was the original, but as cello concertos they are excellent works of the early classical Sturm und Drang era. Anyone who likes, say, the first fifty Haydn symphonies should find much to enjoy in these works.
The third concerto has been quite popular for some time; Pierre Fournier recorded it. Complete cycles are rarer, and Nicolas Altstaedt and Arcangelo present the concertos on period instruments, in period style. At 20-24 minutes each, these pieces are substantial, and often original; the younger Bach uses eccentric time signatures like 3/2 or 6/8, and sometimes has the orchestra and soloist performing in highly contrasting moods. The second concerto’s adagio, for instance, often has a contrast between harsh tutti ensemble and quiet, lyrical soloist, which reminds me in that way of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto.
An excellent booklet essay makes this disc even more attractive to adventurers and C.P.E. enthusiasts. Jonathan Cohen, the conductor, is a versatile musician; he also plays the harpsichord on this album, which perhaps explains why it’s so prominent in the balance, and is a cellist too. Nicolas Altstaedt, one of a new generation of young soloists who happily move back and forth between period and modern performing styles, acquits himself well, although at times I wish he would allow himself just a bit of vibrato. Altstaedt and Cohen wrote many of the cadenzas on the disc. Arcangelo provides the excellent accompaniment; they save their most exciting and invigorating playing for the very last track.
This is one of those CDs that’s all too easy to recommend. If you’re a devoted C.P.E. Bach fan, you’ll enjoy it. If you’re new to this composer, and wondering what he could possibly offer in contrast to his father, maybe start somewhere else. The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin has his Magnificat on Harmonia Mundi; Andreas Staier has recorded a selection of eye-opening harpsichord concertos; and Mikhail Pletnev has a piano recital revealing the composer’s eccentricity at its most engaging.