Cellist Guy Fishman releases a follow up to his critically acclaimed Vivaldi Concertos on Olde Focus with this recording of the concerti of C.P.E. Bach. Along with his colleagues from the Handel and Haydn Society, Fishman's performance underscores the angularity, unpredictability, and most of all unique creativity of this music by J.S. Bach's unconventional son.
Concerto for cello, strings, and basso continuo in A major, Wq. 172/H. 439
|02||II. Largo con sordino. Mesto|
II. Largo con sordino. Mesto
|03||III. Allegro assai|
III. Allegro assai
Concerto for cello, strings, and basso continuo in a minor, Wq. 170/H. 432
|04||I. Allegro assai|
I. Allegro assai
|06||III. Allegro assai|
III. Allegro assai
Concerto for cello, strings, and basso continuo in B-flat major, Wq. 171/H. 436
|09||III. Allegro assai|
III. Allegro assai
“A musician cannot hope to move the listener unless he himself is moved. He must of necessity feel all of the affects that he hopes to arouse in his audience, for the revealing of his own humour will stimulate a like humour in his listener."
Have there ever been words more germane to the central mission of all musicians than these? Written by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, they are found in his Versuch Ober die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen ("Essay on the True Art of Keyboard Playing"), and though they are inscribed in a book seemingly aimed at the craft of playing an instrument, they reveal their author's true purpose to have been the art of making music, and the life-changing force he believed this endeavor to be.
During his time in Berlin he penned some of the most affecting and expressive music of the 18th century, including the three works on this recording. Take the Concerto in A major, for instance. The exuberance of the orchestral opening cannot be mistaken for anything other than pure joy in music-making, and hardly betrays its author's unhappy circumstances. Ample virtuosity evinces a complete understanding of the cello and sits well under the hand but is difficult enough that only a rare cellist dispatches it with a dry forehead. The soloist's use of material originating with the orchestra - and vice versa - hints at the absolute synergy amongst disparate parts that Emanuel must have learned from his only teacher, Johann Sebastian. This feature serves as fodder for an interplay between soloist and ensemble where one begins a thought and the other finishes it. It is found frequently in the Concerto in A minor, at times exciting, as in the third movement, and at others intimate, as in the single-note utterances in the second movement. The first movement is set like a drama, and reminds me of the similarity between music-making and acting, especially when Emanuel's exhortation to move the listener is observed.Read More
Bach composed cadenzas for all his concerti, but only for the harpsichord versions of these three. I've written my own cadenzas for each concerto, and I think Bach would have approved, if not of my modest efforts, then of my replacing his cadenzas with my own, as I believe most musicians of the period would have done.
What remains is consideration of that most representative of Emanuel's attributes, that which irked King Frederick so: the self- described "bold shift from one Affekt to another." For instance, in the remarkable slow movement of the Concerto in A major, Bach calls for mutes for the ensemble, setting the tone both figuratively and literally. To this he adds extreme dynamic shifts, from forte to piano and back, taking pains to notate his intentions precisely. In the Concerto in B-flat major Bach uses the outer movements to inch ever closer to classicism, using something that presages sonata-allegro form unlike the ritornello form used by his father and, indeed, in his own Concerto in A major. But in the slow movement one senses a struggle between the pre-classical Bach, writing solo entrances that use material presented by the orchestra and following a sensible modulation from minor to relative major and back, and the Bach of the empfindsamer Stil, the one aiming to affect the humours by composing jolting leaps and sudden dynamic changes. This music could only have been written by a composer who believed "that music must, first and foremost, stir the heart." It's hard to imagine Emanuel failing at his attempts to do just that.
– Guy Fishman
Guy Fishman principal cellist of the Handel Haydn Society, with which he made his Symphony Hall solo debut in 2005. He is in demand as an early music specialist in the United States and Europe, performing in recital with Dawn Upshaw, Mark Peskanov, Eliot Fisk, Richard Eggar, Lara St. John, Gil Kalish, and Kim Kashkashian, and with Arcadia Players, Querelle des Bouffons, Boston Baroque, Boulder Bach Festival, Apollo's Fire, Emmanuel Music, the Boston Museum Trio, Les Violons du Roy, and El Mundo, among others. He has toured with the Mark Morris Dance Group and Natalie Merchant, and has performed at the Aston Magna, Connecticut Early Music, Rockport, and Colorado Music festivals, as well as at the BBC Proms. His playing has been praised as "plangent" by the Boston Globe, "electrifying" by the New York Times, and "beautiful....noble" by the Boston Herald. The Boston Musical Intelligencer related that in a performance of Haydn's C-major concerto "..[I] heard greater depth in this work than I have in quite some time."
Mr. Fishman has recorded for the CORO, Telarc, Centaur, Titanic, and Newport Classics labels. His release of Vivaldi cello concerti with members of the Handel and Haydn Society (Olde Focus) was called "brilliant" by the Huffington Post and "a feast for the ears" by Early Music America. It was voted "Top 10 Releases of 2017" by WRTI in Philadelphia.
Mr. Fishman started playing the cello at age 12, and at 16 began his Baccalaureate studies with David Soyer. He subsequently worked with Peter Wiley, Julia Lichten, and Laurence Lesser, with whom he completed Doctoral studies. In addition, he is a Fulbright Fellow, having worked with famed Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma in Amsterdam. He plays a rare cello made in Rome in 1704 by David Tecchler.
Founded in Boston in 1815, the Handel and Haydn Society is internationally acclaimed for its performances and recordings of Baroque and Classical music. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Harry Christophers, H+H's Period Instrument Orchestra and Chorus delight more than 50,000 listeners each year at Symphony Hall and other leading venues in Boston. Through the Karen S. and George D. Levy Education Program, H+H also provides engaging, accessible, and broadly inclusive education to over 10,000 children each year through in-school music instruction and a Vocal Arts Program. Handelandhaydn.org
On his latest recording, CPE Bach Cello Concerti, the remarkable cellist Guy Fishman proves that Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach — so admired by the likes of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven — should be viewed as more than the transitional composer he is often thought to be.
In his liner notes, Fishman offers this quote from C.P.E. Bach: “A musician cannot hope to move the listener unless he himself is moved. He must of necessity feel all the affects that he hopes to arouse in his audience, for revealing of his own humor will stimulate a like humor in his listener.”
Obviously, the cellist was inspired by these words. The exuberance he brings to each concerto, combined with his adroit sense of phrasing and extraordinary technique, make this CD a walk through a garden of musical delights. His performances of the three concertos are filled with humor as the music leaps from one end of the instrument’s register to the other, something Fishman does with grace and agility.
The cellist and a top-notch, six-member ensemble from Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society open with the dramatic concerto Wq. 172/H.439 in A major. In the opening Allegro, as he does throughout the recording, Fishman embraces the quirky technical passages of the faster movements with a devil-may-care attitude, each phrase defined by clean, crisp articulations. He knows where he wants every line to go and doesn’t stop until he gets there.
But Fishman and his colleagues — violinists Aisslinn Nosky and Maureen Murchie, violist Max Mandel, cellist Sarah Freiberg, bassist Robert Nairn, and harpsichordist Ian Watson — do more than wow the listener with flash. Their pensive interpretations of the slower lyrical music is stunning, the Adagio from Concerto Wq. 171/H.436 in B-flat major being a case in point.
In all three works, Fishman performs his own cadenzas, although in the opening Allegro assai from Concerto Wq.170/H. 432 in A minor he does borrow a bit of Bach’s material. The technical mastery and drama the ensemble bring to the performance of this concerto’s brilliant music make it the highlight of the album. After the fiery first movement, the cellist brings out his inner opera singer during the Andante — his cadenza is soulful. The final Allegro assai is bold, colorful, and full of panache.
A bonus feature of the album is Fishman’s personal liner notes, in which he shows his scholarly side: “By playing his music, reading his Versuch, and studying autobiographic and biographic writings, I feel it is easy to know Emanuel Bach.” Just as the cellist’s playing makes you want to listen to more, his writing makes you want to read and perhaps learn more.
The sound quality of this recording, released on Olde Focus Recordings, is both excellent and intimate, giving the impression that the musicians are performing in your living room. Perhaps this CD will make people who have been skeptical about C.P.E. Bach’s music want to investigate it further.
-Mike Telin, 12.3.18, Early Music America
It’s interesting to observe how historically informed performances have evolved over the years. The classic English ensembles of the 1980s, like the English Concert and the Academy of Ancient Music, delivered sedate, tasteful renditions of mainstream Baroque repertoire. Then along came Il Giardino Armonico with its exaggerated, high-voltage playing style full of rhetorical flourishes, especially in Vivaldi and other Italian composers. Other early music specialists caught on to this approach and started applying it to a wide variety of Baroque music. Now with many groups—thankfully, not all—we get a standard recipe of racy tempos, spiked articulation, wild dynamic contrasts, and an avalanche of continuo.
These performances by the Handel and Haydn Society (performed one player per part) often sound like C. P. E. Bach as interpreted by the Keystone Kops. Fast movements are taken at breakneck speeds that seem to get even faster, thanks to some overexcited inner parts. The players are agile and all the notes are in place, but the overall effect is aggressive and overdone. In the slow movements one longs for some poise and elegance, but instead we get more desiccated sounds. Soloist Guy Fishman conveys Bach’s flights of eccentricity but gives short shrift to his lyricism, starving even long held notes of their cantabile. As I see it, players who adopt this manner of performance are not recreating Baroque style but superimposing Postmodern sensibilities onto Baroque music.
C. P. E. Bach once complained that the “love of the comic” was ruining artistic taste. I don’t imagine he’d be keen on these performances. As for me, I’ll take the playing of Jean-Guihen Queyras and Ensemble Resonanz (on modern instruments, but in a historically informed spirit) which I reviewed in 42.2. Ensemble Resonanz uses a healthy body of strings and Queyeras’s playing is sensitive and poetic, resulting in genuine drama and passion instead of the hyperactivity shown here.
-Michael De Sapio, 1.22.2019, Fanfare