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Oboe Concerto in D minor


The influence of JS Bach’s contemporaries on his compositional output is in ample evidence throughout his vast oeuvre. The composer’s son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, lists a number of these in his correspondence with Johann Nikolaus Forkel, Sebastian’s biographer, in 1775: Caldara, Fux, Handel, Hasse, Telemann, Zelenka, among many others.

Strangely missing from CPE Bach’s list are Antonio Vivaldi and both Marcellos, the brothers Alessandro and Benedetto: Italian masters in whose music Bach undoubtedly took keen interest. Yet Bach (the elder) himself made explicit his penchant for the music of these composers through his arrangements of their concerti for solo keyboard: a set of sixteen concertos (BWV 972-987) composed between 1713 and 1714 exclusively comprises arrangements of other composers’ work, including six by Vivaldi; one, in C minor, after Benedetto Marcello’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op 1 No 2; and the Concerto in D minor after Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto (frequently misattributed to Benedetto).

While presumably drawn to the expressive character of his Italian counterparts’ music (one surmises that the Brandenburg Concerti, in their dramatic power and instrumental panache, owe a debt to L’estro armonico), Bach’s keyboard arrangements are more than mere homage. The consummate keyboard virtuoso, Bach demonstrates in these transcriptions great imagination and originality in writing for his instrument. From the Marcello Oboe Concerto’s Andante e spiccato first movement, Bach unlocks a kaleidoscopic variety of keyboard textures, from razor-sharp two-part counterpoint to the dense fusillade of seven- and eight-voice chords that precedes its final cadence. Marcello’s luxuriously mournful Adagio is transfigured into an introspective soliloquy; notably, where Marcello provides melodic scaffolding for the oboist’s ornamentation, Bach notates his trills, turns, and flourishes, offering a lens into his art as a keyboard player. The Concerto’s Presto finale blazes with the Italianate fire that so entranced Bach: an element exquisitely translated in his Bach’s version.

from notes by Patrick Castillo © 2020


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