“Bach is the father, we are the children”
Aurora Orchestra, John Butt
Kings Place, 17 January 2016
JC Bach: Symphony No. 6; CPE Bach: Sinfonia in D; JS Bach Brandenburg Concertos 1 & 3; Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 1, Adagio and Fugue.
It is still a bit of a shock to be reminded that when Mozart commented that ‘Bach is the father, we are the children’ he was not referring to JS Bach, but to his second son CPE Bach. But is was through JS Bach’s youngest son, Johann Christian, that Mozart first became aware of the Bach family when just eight years old. Earning the nickname of the ‘London Bach’ (not the ‘English Bach’ as the programme note suggests), JC Bach had made his name as an opera composer in London. The 1764 meeting in London with the child Mozart led to a life-long friendship. The Aurora Orchestra (playing modern instruments) featured all three Bachs in a programme that launched their five-year long series of concerts featuring all 27 of Mozart’s piano concertos.
The opening JC Bach Symphony in G minor (Op 6/6) was written in his early London years. It opens with a short and bustling Allegro before the horror-movie style opening of the extended and rather mysterious central Andante. The dramatic mood is continued in the final Allegro, with its distinctive horn passages and nice little descending arpeggio ending, albeit following a sometimes predictable sequences of phrases and motifs. This symphony was an introduction to London audiences of the sturm und drang style. It is curious in that all three movements are in the minor key. Just three years after Mozart meeting with JC Bach, he composed his first ‘piano’ concerto (K37), performed here by John Butt on a French style harpsichord. Although the two outer movements based on existing pieces by Raupach and Honauer, the middle movement is generally considered to be Mozart’s own work. It is based on a Lombardic rhythm. John Butt’s final cadenza stretched the harmonic boundaries a little wider than the 11 year old Mozart would have done; and it wouldn’t have sounded quite to tame in a period temperament.
CPE Bach’s Sinfonia in D (WQ183/1 opened with turbulent arpeggios beneath an insistent syncopated high violin note. Within a few bars all has relaxed, but just for a bar or two, before the energy returned – a fine example of his Empfindsamer Stil (‘sensitive sty;e’) . The second half sandwiched Mozart’s rather stern Adagio and Fugue (a homage to JS Bach) between two of JSB’s Brandenburg Concertos (Nos 1 & 3).
It has been a very long time since I heard music of this period played on modern instruments, and it rather surprised me at how different the orchestral sound was – quite uncomfortable, in fact. There was none of the character of period woodwind, and the tuning just seemed wrong. But at least there was a semblance of informed period aspects in terms of phrasing and articulation, although the string vibrato could have been reined in a little more at times. John Butt is, of course, a specialist in this repertoire, and the players will have, hopefully, learnt a great deal from working with him. And if not for his period credentials, but for his characteristic verve and energy
It was recorded for BBC Radio 3, the lengthy discussions between the presenter and John Butt between every peace making for a very long concert. It was broadcast on Tuesday 19 January 2016, and can be accessed for the next 30 days or so via this link – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06vs3l7
The main concert was followed by The Lock In, an informal gathering which, because of the overrun of the earlier concert, started so late that I could only catch the first piece.