Tag Archives: Freiburger Barockorchester

A Review of CPE Bach’s Cembalo Concertos by Andreas Staier – Just Beautiful

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach, as it is rather well known, had a large family. A total of 6 sons. Most of them did some composing. Unfortunately, the only descendant of Bach that I personally find interesting is Carl Philipp Emanuel, often abbreviated as CPE (I’ve written a bit about Wilhelm Friedemann here).

CPE had a major influence on music, including on one of the greatest names ever, Mozart. Mozart did meet CPE, and reportedly has said about him “Er ist der Vater; wir sind die Bubn. Wer von uns was Rechts kann, hats von ihm gelernt.” (which roughly translates into “he (CPE) is the father, we are the children. Whoever of us know how to compose, has learned from him”).

CPE Bach in a way, musically speaking is the “missing link” between the Baroque period of JS Bach and Händel, and the Viennese classical period of Mozart and Haydn. In his music you still have some elements of the former, but much more points to the latter. I suggest you check out this nice Guardian article if you want to know more about the composer.

Andreas Staier

I’ve written several times about the German pianist and harpsichordist Andreas Staier. Most of the time I just love his recordings (e.g. Schubert’s Winterreise, Bach’s Clarinet Sonatas, or his great Diabelli variations). Occasionally I’m disappointed, particularly with his recording of the JS Bach keyboard concertos (see A Disappointment From Andreas Staier – How Can That Be?).

I was particularly disappointed in the JS Bach recording mentioned above as I just love this CPE bach recording I’m writing about here, so I had particularly high expectations.

 

CPE Bach: Six Harpsichord Concertos – Andreas Staier – Petra Müllejans – Freiburger Barockorchester (Harmonia Mundi 2011)

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Sei concerti per il cembalo concertato (six harpsichord concertos) Andreas Staier Freiburger Barockorchester Petra Müllejans Harmonia Mundi 24/44

 

So what do you get? Sheer brilliance! Staier and the Freiburgers really put all their energy in making this music shine. And what beautiful music it is. I personally would put CPE Bach higher than Haydn in my personal appreciation.

This is really exicing and passionate playing, which will draw you in. This album deservedly received the Gramophone Award in its category in 2011 (interestingly, they put it under “baroque instrumental”, not sure I’d 100% agree).

Check it out!

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prestoclassical)

 

Schumann’s Cello Concerto by Jean-Guihen Queyras – A Review

A Trilogy

This is now the third and presumably album of an exciting series by three outstanding musicians.

The German violinist Isabelle Faust (yes, I’m a big fan, see here or here), the Russian pianist Alexander Melnikov, and the French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras are all great musicians individually, but get even better when they play together.

An excellent example is their recording of some Beethoven Trios on Harmonia Mundi some years ago, and Faust’s and Melnikov’s collaboration on Beethoven’s and Brahms’ violin sonatas are among my absolute favorites (the latter made it as part of my top 5 classical albums in 2015).

In this particular project, the three have decided to attack Schumann, and to couple one of his 3 piano trios with one of his orchestral solo works, playing with the Freiburger Barockorchester under Pablo Heras-Casado, on Harmonia Mundi.

Faust started, coupling his piano trio with his relatively unknown violin concerto back in early 2015. I really like this album.

Some month later Melnikov got his chance to play the famous piano concerto (see my 4 star review here) with piano trio no. 2.

So here we are at release no. 3, focusing obviously on the Cello concerto, and the remaining trio no. 1.

Schumann: Cello Concerto and Piano Trio No. 1 – Jean Guihen Queyras – Pablo Heras-Casado – Freiburger Barockorchester (Harmonia Mundi 2016)

Schumann: Cello Concerto / Piano Trio No. 1 Jean-Guihen Queyras Alexander Melnikov Isabelle Faust Pablo Heras-Casado Freiburger Barockorchester 2016 Harmonia Mundi

I expected quite a lot from this album, given that I really liked the two predecessors. However, on the Cello concerto I’m not exactly getting what I expected.

Schumann to me is one of the highest points of romanticism. I really like the energy, passion, and drama in his orchestral works. However, both Queyras and Heras-Casado chose a more subdued approach here, and I unfortunately constantly feel I’m missing something.

To explain what I mean, let me refer to my two personal reference versions for this concerto, by the legendary Jacqueline du Pré (playing with Daniel Barenboim), and even more, Janos Starker with Antal Dorati and the London Symphony. Do you hear the passion,  the power?

Here is a Youtube example of du Pré:

Maybe I just need to listen to the Queyras version more to get used to it, but so far it just doesn’t pull me in enough.

Obviously, we are talking about an excellent soloist (I really like his Bach Cello Suites for example) with a great orchestra, so fundamentally this remains a good recording, it is just not my cup of tea.

However, going back to the chamber music, all is well. These three trios, spread over 3 albums, will remain my reference version of these works for a foreseeable future.

My rating: 4 stars, averaging 3 stars for the Cello Concerto and 5 stars for the trio.

You can find it here (Qobuz) or here (Prostudiomasters)

Captivating Period Schumann from Alexander Melnikov

Alexander Melnikov / Isabelle Faust / Jean-Guihen Queyras

I’ve already praised Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov for their excellent Hindemith chamber album, and the outstanding Brahms violin concerto, but they have done many other beautiful recordings together, including a recent version of the Beethoven Archduke trio with Queyras, or my preferred version of the Beethoven violin sonatas. Queyras is one of our leading cellists these days, and has recently recorded the complete Beethoven cello sonatas (very much worth checking out) with Melnikov. So as you can see, these three play regularly together, and you can hear it.

Schumann

This outstanding trio is now working for the second time together (hence the “2” on the cover) on their Schumann trilogy. This trilogy is twofold: it combines in each volume one of the three Schumann Piano Trios, and one of the three solo concertos (violin, piano, cello) he wrote, in collaboration with the Freiburger Barockorchester (which I usually like very much, although I was disappointed this week by their latest Bach release) under the young Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado.

The series started with Faust playing the little known violin concerto (Clara Schumann even actively suppressed it, deeming it not worth of her husband’s legacy), which is very much worth checking out, and is now moving to the warhorse of the a-minor piano concerto.

The Schumann piano concerto

Schumann piano concerto Melnikov Freiburger Barockorchester Pablo Heras-Casado Harmonia Mundi 2015

This beautiful romantic work is one of the most recorded and best known piano concertos out there, and so you have literally hundreds of recordings to chose from, including some outstanding ones. Among my favorites you’ll find Dinu Lipatti with the young Herbert von Karajan, or Radu Lupu with André Previn.

However, I haven’t yet heard this romantic concerto on period instruments. The Freiburger Barockorchester, as their name indicates, are focused on HIP (historically informed) performance, and even more interesting, Melnikov plays on a 1837 Erard, which really gives the work a different color. I’m sure Schumann would have loved a modern Steinway, but it is interesting to hear how this sounded when it was composed.

However, period instruments are not a goal in itself. The performance has to match. And here I’m a bit torn. I love the way movements 1 and 2 are handled, but the third movement, while powerful, is just too slow,. which takes too much energy away for me. I wonder whether this choice was driven by Melnikov or Heras-Casado. In any case, it was clearly a very conscious choice. The overall movement takes 12:14, by far the longest I have in the 10+ versions in my library(as a comparison, my beloved Lipatti/Karajan took 10:01), and even the recent Pires/Gardiner  recording I didn’t particularly like (review here) was only 11:04.

That said, overall this concerto is still a real pleasure, and while it may not become my reference version, it is a very interesting alternative, to hear Schumann’s most famous work like you’ve never heard it before.

In any case, when you get to the trio, all is well, Melnikov, Faust, and Queyras play together as beautiful as ever, and this relatively unknown Schumann chamber work really shines.

I’m really looking forward to vol. 3 with Queyras playing the Cello concerto.

Overall rating: 4 stars (FYI, the reviews I’ve seen so far are divided, Gramophone loved it (Editor’s choice), the Guardian’s Kate Molleson didn’t like it very much with 3 stars), you really need to make up your own mind. It is absolutely worth checking out.

You can download it here (Qobuz), or here (eclassical)

A Disappointment From Andreas Staier – How Can That Be? – My Review of the Bach Harpsichord Concertos

Andreas Staier

Let me start by pointing out that I’m a big fan of Andreas Staier. I’ve praised his Diabelli Variations here, I like his approach to Mozart and Schumann, as well as his album “Pour Passer la Mélancholie”. His 2012 album of the 6 piano concertos by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach is outstanding.

Freiburger Barockorchester

The same goes for the Freiburger Barockorchester (who joins Staier on excellent the CPE Bach album above). Their recording of the Bach Orchestral Suites is my go-to version, and the recently started Schumann cycle with Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov and Jean-Guihen Queyras (more about the Melnikov in the next days) is very very good.

The Bach “Piano” concertos

Bach wrote quite a number of concertos for harpsichord. As was not unusual at the time, several of them were probably recycled from other sources, e.g. other solo concertos or cantatas. You’ll find concertos for 1-4(!) soloists.

So far, I still haven’t found “my” version. My currently preferred versions are the 2011 Linn recording of the Retrospect Ensemble with Matthew Halls conducting and playing, Pierre Hantai’s slightly idiosyncratic but very interesting version with Le Concert Français (see my review of his Goldberg variations here), and most of all Café Zimmermann’s energetic readings, which are unfortunately spread over 6 albums (all worth getting anyhow!) and only have the concertos with several instruments.

Therefore, when I heard about this recording by Staier with the Freiburger, I was very excited and already had it on pre-order. Luckily, I was distracted, didn’t get to click on buy, and therefore ended up listening to it on Qobuz streaming first.

Bach: Harpsichord Concertos - Andreas Staier - Freiburger Barockorchester - Harmonia Mundi 2015

I’m happy I did, because at this stage I don’t think I will end up buying this album.Maybe it was just that I was expecting too much, but my “inner ear” has a very different idea on how these concertos should sound.

It pains me to write critical words about musicians that I admire very much, but the album generally sounds a bit heavy and slow, and does not at all the lightweight “swing” I so much love about most recent Historically Informed Performances.

In a way this reminds me of Karl Richter’s way of playing Bach. There is obviously nothing wrong with approaching the music this way, it is just really not my cup of tea.

Obviously this approach, and the sometimes slower tempi also allow for more nuances and there are very beautiful moments in this album, e.g. in the Largo of BWV1056.

But most of the time, this is not for me.

Overall rating: 3 stars. I really didn’t expect ever to give such a relatively low rating to these outstanding musicians. is it just me? I’d really love to hear your feedback especially if you disagree!

EDIT August 28, 2015: I seem to be the odd one out here with my opinion. Classica “Choc”, 5 stars from Diapason, 5 stars from the Guardian. So be warned, I may just be a crazy lunatic in not particularly liking this album. I’d appreciate even more your feedback on this, as after 4 more listenings, I stand by my opinion. Please tell me if I need a new pair of ears!

EDIT Oct 11, 2015: Just reading the review in the October issue of Gramophone, and at least Jonathan Freeman-Atwood seems to have heard what I’ve heard. To quote: “If you’re looking for fun, abandon, lyricism, radiant lift off […] and luminosity, then maybe this one is not for you”. He’s spot on, that’s exactly what’s lacking for me.