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Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin is celebrating the Bach tercentennial on tour

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Regular readers will know by now that the 300th anniversary referred to in the headline does not apply to Johann Sebastian Bach. Rather, it recognizes the birth of Bach’s second surviving son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, in Weimar on March 8, 1714. To honor this occasion, the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin released their latest harmonia mundi recording on February 11.

The selection reproduces the program for a charity concert that “Bach the son” conducted in Hamburg on April 9, 1786. This featured his D major symphony Wq 183/1 and two major choral works. The first of these was a setting of the Magnificat canticle (Wq 215), which Emanuel composed in 1749 in the hope of succeeding to his father’s position in Leipzig. The second is a brief but elaborate motet for double choir on the text “Heilig ist Gott” (holy is God). On the new recording, the instrumentalists of the Akademie are joined by four vocal soloists, soprano Elizabeth Watts, alto Wiebke Lehmkuhl, tenor Lothar Odinius, and bass Markus Eiche, performing with the RIAS Kammerchor, all under the direction of Hans-Christoph Rademann. The performance of the symphony is led from the Concertmaster's chair by Georg Kallweit.

I have already commented on the vigorous level of energy that pervades so much of Emanuel’s ensemble writing. The performances on this new recording effectively capture that energetic spirit with a dazzling intensity. Indeed, the account of the Wq 215 Magnificat setting is so delightful that one has to wonder why it has not risen to the same level of popularity as Sebastian’s BWV 243 setting in D major. The enthusiastic timpani stroke on the first beat seizes the listener’s attention, launching him/her into the rapid-fire string passages that then support a more incantatory approach to the opening text. Bearing in mind that I have been highly supportive of the recent surge in attention for Emanuel, I still have to observe (with unabashed DeKoven enthusiasm) that this recording is a real treat.

In the Akademie instrumental ensemble will be spreading the good news about Emanuel on their fourth tour of the United States. The program for this tour will feature works by several members of the Bach family along with George Frideric Handel (who happens to have been born on this very date, February 23, in 1685). Here is a brief summary of the tour schedule:

  • March 29, Berkeley, California: First Congregational Church
  • March 30, Los Angeles, California: Disney Concert Hall
  • April 2, Denver, Colorado: Gates Hall of the Newman Center
  • April 5, Washington, DC: Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress
  • April 6, Boston, Massachusetts: Calderwood Hall of the Gardner Museum
  • April 8, New York, New York, Zankel Hall of Carnegie Hall
  • April 11, Kansas City, Missouri: Folly Theatre
  • April 13, Ann Arbor, Michigan: Hill Auditorium
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