Australian Haydn Ensemble | CPE Bach: Universe of Harmony
December 11, 2022, City Recital Hall, Sydney
It’s difficult to believe that in the second half of the eighteenth century, Carl Philip Emanuel Bach was far more famous than his illustrious father. Indeed when Telemann turned down a church appointment in Leipzig, the chairman stated that “they would have to make do with the mediocre JS Bach”! Even Mozart championed Emanuel as the father of music.
Certainly the Australian Haydn Ensemble is in agreement by featuring CPE in their programming as well as some of his contemporaries. His Symphony in C is the third of a set of six that was commissioned by Gottfried Van Swieten who was also a sponsor of Beethoven and Mozart including performances of the latter’s Requiem. A lively allegro features the composer’s signature technique of following a chord progression with a forte note followed by an abrupt pause. A contemplative adagio then precedes an energetic finale. The word “energetic” also describes the guest director Chad Kelly who seemed to be attempting high jump and hundred metre records while giving an introductory talk, conducting and providing a continuo bass.
Daniel Yeadon is well known as the principal cellist of the ensemble and he also teaches at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. He has performed with many well-known chamber groups. He gave an accurate and reflective rendition of CPE’s Cello Concerto in A. This concerto stands out as a progression from the baroque style of having a homogenous mood throughout each movement to a more Romantic and, dare I say, tuneful mode. In the Largo, the soloist plays almost entirely in the higher registers while the effervescent finale is almost Mozartian.
Between these two works, we heard Sinfonia no 8 of William Herschel – yes, the same as discovered the planet Uranus! He was clearly inventive – the second bar of the opening movement contains chords which are reminiscent of the nineteenth century. The music flows with unbound force but perhaps never quite hits the high spots.
After the break, we went backwards in time firstly to the Harpsichord Concerto in F minor by George Benda. If nothing else, this work produced a brilliant performance on a famously difficult instrument from Chad Kelly. Dashing runs, arpeggios and trills abounded in the outer movements while the larghetto was handled with great insight. Directing the orchestra as well involved much sitting and standing and his Apple watch must have been overloaded! The Czech composer Benda and his brother were members of the orchestra of Emperor Frederick the Great’s palace at Potsdam and he numbered Mozart among the fans of his music. Certainly the music flowed with intensity and I would be happy to try out the other ten concertos that he wrote for this instrument.
George Telemann is more renowned of course and was the godfather and best friend of CPE Bach. We heard his Overture Suite in G which follows the Introduction with six French-titled dances as well as a Fantasy and a portrait of a singing nightingale – this onomatopoeic tendency is unusual for this composer but proved very attractive with great variety of rhythms and tones.
A packed audience was very generous in its applause and I feel the “Clapometer” would have been highest in the appreciation of the talents of the guest director. Needless to say, the ensemble with its beautifully tuned ancient instruments performed immaculately.
Photo credit – Oliver Miller