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GRAMOPHONE (01/2020)
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Harmonia Mundi


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Reviewer: Richard Wigmore

The oboe concertos – CPE Bach at his most amenable – get prime billing on the jewel case. Yet it’s the two capriciously inventive symphonies from the mid-1750s that really grip the imagination here. These are far less familiar than CPE’s later sets of Hamburg symphonies, but hardly less subversive in their violently compacted opening movements. Mingling athletic precision and devil-may-care abandon, the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin relish the music’s seething energy and harmonic and dynamic shocks. Violins surge and spit frenetically against the glinting highpitched horns. With discreetly balanced harpsichord support, CPE’s characteristic repeated-note bass lines are lithe and propulsive, always enhancing the music’s nervous vitality. The players are equally attuned to the soulful Empfindsamkeit of the slow movements, whether in the gently lilting Andante of the F major Symphony (Wq181) or the more disturbed Largo of the G major (Wq180). With her mellow, rounded tone and subtle rhythmic sense, Xenia Löffler excels in the more gracious, ‘normal’ world of the oboe concertos, though as ever CPE cannot resist the odd disorientating hiatus or alien harmony. Löffler is all you could ask in this repertoire, phrasing and colouring with spontaneous flair, bringing a twinkling sense of fun (not a word readily associated with CPE) to the finales and a singing eloquence to the slow movements. The plaintive Largo e mesto of the B flat Concerto (Wq164) has a touching, fragile intimacy I’ve never heard equalled, with the strings matching Löffler all the way in sensitivity. I would have ideally liked the oboe less forwardly balanced vis-à-vis the orchestra. But that’s a trifling reservation. The CD competition, especially in the symphonies, is sparse. Even if it weren’t, I’d confidently recommend this disc to anyone attracted to CPE’s quirkily fascinating art.

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