This fascinating program replicates the second half of a charity concert given by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in Hamburg on Palm Sunday 1786 (the first half comprised the Sanctus from his father’s B Minor Mass and excerpts from Handel’s Messiah) and this recording was made to celebrated the 300th anniversary of the composer’s birth and serve as a sampler of the various styles of “the New Bach”. 

His Magnificat from 1749 typifies his Janus-like profile in 18th-century music looking back to the High Baroque style and closely following the formal plan of his father’s 1723 example with a similar sequence of choruses, solo arias and duets, yet throwing open the shutters of dusty old tradition and letting the musical light of ‘Reason’ flood in. 

The bustling Italianate style is overlaid with a cleaner vocal line that looks ahead to the later Classical manner yet still incorporates those exuberant curlicues of ornament that were once condemned by some as mere Rococo fluff. 

One catches the occasional glimpse of the Empfindsamkeit sensibility for which he is famed in the Magnificat, but those sudden flickers of changing mood are at their most distilled strength in the D Major Symphony with its quirky harmonic u-turns and melodic non-sequiturs performed here with dazzling virtuosity by the marvelous Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, a band who recently graced the Sydney Festival with their presence. The plunging scales in the first movement are thrillingly precise in articulation while the textures are keenly balanced with a myriad of tonal colours. 

The composer’s two opposing styles come together to rather surprising effect in the Motet Heilig ist Gott Wq217 which opens with a lovely alto arietta engagingly sung by Weibke Lehmkuhl and leading to a bold double chorus. I wish Carl Philipp Emanuel’s enlightened economy of scale had abandoned him for once – the piece is frustratingly brief. 

The RIAS Kammerchor sing with their usual ideal blend of precision, clarity and focus – I confess, I have long been a fan of this group and they’ve yet to disappoint me. The soloists are all fine and modestly un-starry although Elisabeth Watts is on the ascent. The recording was made in Berlin’s Jesus-Christe-Kirche, one of the great recording venues of all time, and is a stunner. A totally transparent image with palpable textures and every voice is clear and distinct. On good equipment one can almost see the performers within a clearly defined space with subtle reverberant clues bouncing off the walls of the church. A sheer delight.

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