New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon
Monday, 27 April 2020
CPE Bach Keyboard Concerto in d Christian Zacharias Orchestre national d’Auvergne
C. P. E. Bach Keyboard Concerto in d, Wq 23; Rondo in
D, WD 59/5.2
Christian Zacharias, piano and conductor
Orchestre national d’Auvergne Live (29:00)
Available on Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, Napster, Tidal,
iTunes, and KKBox
This release is the sixth in just a year from the enterprising Orchestre
national d’Auvergne Live label. It is a small-scale affair, taking individual
works, or sometimes whole concerts, from the orchestra’s live schedule and
making them available via streaming platforms. As the orchestra sees it, streaming
is the future, and while record collectors might disagree, the logistical
benefits are clear—minimal overheads but potentially global exposure for the
The orchestra itself has a full-time string section, to which a part-time
wind section is occasionally added, as on the Beethoven Seventh which the label
was launched. But the majority of the orchestra’s concerts are of string orchestra
repertoire. The group regularly engages high-profile conductors and soloists.
That’s a boon for marketing, but it makes artistic sense too, given the
profound effect a distinctive soloist can have on the sound and style of a
medium-sized ensemble. On a previous release, Thomas Zehetmair led a program of
Strauss and Bruckner arrangements, bringing his sinuous but focused Romantic
phrasing to both, then clearing the air with a lively Haydn violin concerto.
This latest release features Christian Zacharias, leading a C. P. E.
Bach concerto from the piano. Zacharias is a respected authority on the keyboard
music of the Classical era, but his many recordings over the decades have mostly
focused on the biggest names: Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven. The orchestra’s
publicity for this release emphasizes that, not only was this Zacharias’s first
appearance with the group, but it is also his first recording of the concerto.
Both the composer and the work sit at the turning point between the Baroque
and Classical eras. The concerto, from 1748, is scored for solo keyboard, strings
(seemingly one to a part), and figured-bass continuo. Most of the available recordings
(three of the four others that appear on a brief search) present the solo part
on harpsichord, with only Michael Rische playing the concerto on piano, on a
recent Hänssler release (19043) with the Leipzig Chamber Orchestra. Zacharias
makes the most of the opportunities the piano affords, clearly distinguishing
melody and accompaniment, and subtly blending the sound in some of the passagework.
But otherwise, the choice of piano over harpsichord is less significant than it
might seem. The performance is no slower than the period instrument alternatives,
and the string section, while expanded from the score’s implied one-to-a-part,
is nimble and light, with excellent coordination. A harpsichord continuo is
also included, and is well captured by the engineering, but its delicate
ornaments at cadences never sound anachronistic against the piano.
The second movement is marked poco andante, but is taking
daringly slow. The movement unfolds as a single utterance, with the piano playing
almost continuously throughout, its line gradually become more elaborate, but
always retaining its lyrical melodic flow. Towards the end the orchestra begins
to struggle with the sheer concentration required, and the ensemble begins to
loosen. Fortunately, Zacharias carries the day, and delivers us safely into the
finale, marked allegro assai, but not rushed here, so much as gently
propelled through the precise string articulation.
The ending is abrupt. Bach doesn’t include any final flourishes, and a separate
conductor might have had more scope to fashion a conclusive ending. All of the
applause is included, which seems an indulgence, but it leads into a gratifying
encore, a solo Rondo, here given a light and playful reading by Zacharias. He
and the orchestra are clearly attuned to C. P. E.
performers, especially on the harpsichord, invite us to question whether Bach
looks to the past or to the future, Zacharias and the Auvergne orchestra
instead find an ideal style for the music, combining Baroque and Classical
elements as needed, leaning more towards the latter, but resolving any tensions
between them through the sheer exuberance of their sound.
appears in Fanfare magazine issue 43:6