Gramophone (GB), 01. September 1987
These five interesting and, it would appear, hitherto commercially unrecorded symphonies of C.P.E. Bach's Berlin years have been giving me some enjoyment. Stylistically, there is little in the way of surprise and little of that quirky sensibility that characterizes much of his music of the later Hamburg period; yet, there is no mistaking the identity of the composer in the early stirring of the musical Sturm und Drang which can be felt over and over again in Bach's developing language of feeling. These symphonies span the years between 1755 and 1762 and thus fall into the long period during which Carl Philipp Emanuel served at the Court of Frederick the Great at Potsdam.
Each symphony here is in three movements but varies in its orchestration. The Symphonies in E flat, Wq179 and F major, Wql8l are scored for pairs of oboes and horns with strings, though with flutes added to the middle movement of the latter; in the C major, Wq174 and F major, Wq175 the oboes are replaced with flutes and, in the E minor Symphony, Wq178, Bach brings together flutes, oboes, horns and strings. Harpsichord continuo, played on a pleasant sounding modern Taskin copy, is used throughout. The variety in colour and texture is complemented by arresting contrasts in emotional temperament which appear at their most affecting, perhaps, in the fine Symphony in E minor of 1756. Here the lyrical slow movement with its gently fluttering flute tremolos, echoed more boldly by the strings, is flanked by supple, vigorous and quite intense Allegros. This work, more than the other four, contains those characteristically spiky utterances in the tuttis, the unexpected pauses and the surprising shifts in key that were to become such a feature of his later music. The conclusion of the finale is admirably bold and concise, recalling several similarly handled closes amongst Bach's symphonies and concertos.
The Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Chamber Orchestra are a band of players who use modern instruments tuned at today's pitch. They are a lively group who reach the heart of the music effortlessly and passionately. ... the level of ensemble is high. In short an attractive programme of largely unfamiliar repertoire well playedand clearly recorded. I note that this issue is described as Volume One—I look forward to others. N.A.