J.C. Bach: Symphonies Concertantes, Vol. 5 (CD review)

Anthony Halstead, the Hanover Band. CPO 999 628-2. 

The Symphonie Concertante genre may remind some people of the form's predecessor, the Concerto Grosso, or the form's successor, today's Concerto. But, in fact, it differs from both. It is somewhat lighter in weight and tone than the former and does not emphasize individual instruments as much as the latter. Listeners of the day (as well as modern listeners) considered Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782), who was one of the multitudinous children of Johann Sebastian (actually, the eleventh surviving and youngest child of J.S.), the leading exponent in the field, and this 2001 release from Anthony Halstead features three such works--the Symphonies Concertantes in C major, CW C36a; D major, CW C39; and Noturno in E-flat major, CW C40--all composed probably some time in the late 1760's (the manuscripts, only one of which is in Bach's own hand, bear no dates).

Bach scored the first Concertante on the program with the emphasis on two violins and cello; the second with the emphasis on two flutes, two violins, and cello; and the third with the emphasis on two oboes, two horns, two violins, two violas, and cello. You can see from these descriptions that they hardly have time for more than passing concentration on any single instrument. Yet they are charming through and through, most particularly the first movement of the C major work, and they certainly deserve the attention they got from CPO.

This fifth volume in a series of six was, I believe, the fourth CPO recording I had reviewed of J.C. Bach played by Anthony Halstead and his period-instrument Hanover Band; and it was possibly the fourth or fifth I had listened to over the years. It seemed as though each time I heard a new one from Halstead, I liked it better than the last. The sound continued to appear smooth and natural, the acoustic realistic, and the playing delightfully elegant and polished.

Not only do the Hanover Band performances sound refined, so do the various soloists in the works: Andrew Byrt (viola), Robert Montgomery (French horn), Judith Tarling (viola), Gavin Edwards (French horn), Graham Cracknell (violin), Gail Hennessy (oboe), Anthony Robson (oboe), Sebastian Comberti (cello), and Peter Hanson (violin). It's an impressive team.

If any of Halstead's previous work in this area impressed you, you can feel safe with this one as well. It is among the best of the bunch.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa