Nicolas Altstaedt plays Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Cello Concertos [Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen; Hyperion]

5 of 5 stars

C. P. E. Bach
Cello Concerto in A minor, Wq170
Cello Concerto in B flat, Wq171
Cello Concerto in A, Wq172

Nicholas Altstaedt (cello)

Jonathan Cohen

Recorded 24-26 November 2014 at St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: November 2016
Duration: 65 minutes



The conventional definition of Sturm und Drang places the period of this artistic movement between the 1760s and the 1780s. It resulted in a dramatic transformation of style regarding literature and music. It is intriguing to note therefore that these three C. P. E. Cello Concertos (originally published with alternative solo parts for flute or harpsichord) have all the required elements yet were composed between 1750 and 1753.

The openings of the outer movements are so dramatic that they could easily be taken for the commencement of a Symphony. They represent not so much an introduction but rather a vivid drive into the body of the movement which the cellist enhances by emphasising these forceful melodies as they sweep forward. In this, Nicolas Altstaedt is an ideal protagonist; no sentimental phrasing impedes the music’s dynamic thrust and the angry opening of the A-minor Concerto is gripping. Rhythmic strength is essential and Jonathan Cohen, directing from the harpsichord, has his highly skilled Arcangelo ensemble surging with great brilliance. I did fear that the cadenza might interrupt the sense of theatre but it retains the essential element of darkness; composed jointly by soloist and conductor it is stylish and of suitably modest length. They also provide tasteful cadenzas for the slow movements of this work and of Wq172.

In the Andante of Wq170, Cohen’s harpsichord-playing is imaginative without ever being intrusive, and where the composer allows himself a certain amount of sadness, interpreted by Altstaedt with gravity. Emotions are at their darkest in the Finale – displayed dramatically by Altstaedt whose presentation of the rapid staccato passages involves virtuosic skill.

Wq171 provides ideal contrast. The opening movement, although in the minor key, is nevertheless more comforting, and the Adagio is richly melodic and the cellist carries it forward with great warmth. The brevity of the cadenza (Bach’s own) was perhaps taken as an example when the performers created those used in the other Concertos. I like the harmonic link at the end of the Adagio which introduces the Finale.

Wq172 is a remarkable work. It is the most frequently performed of these three Concertos, but I am critical of the Eulenberg score because in the last movement the opening 52-bar tutti also serves as a coda, yet on that appearance bars 5-23 are not printed and not played here (another recording I have includes them). Being in a major key does not lessen the impact of several fierce moments and the opening Allegro is symphonic in nature, the cello welded firmly into the progressing excitement. Altstaedt gives us truly Classical playing. The yearning beauty of the central movement – marked Largo con sordini, mesto – is graciously displayed. The Finale is thrilling. Its dashing exuberance foreshadows that of the last movement of Haydn’s C-major Cello Concerto and also benefits from being played as rapidly as possible. With Nicolas Altstaedt, Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s exhilarating creation sounds spectacular.

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