GWK is the abbreviation for “Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Westfälischen Kulturarbeit” (society for the promotion of Westphalian cultural efforts). In keeping with 21st-century practices, they have their own recording label, CC ClassicClips, which is distributed only for download and streaming. According to the index Web page for this label, 28 recordings have been released to date, the most recent of which (made available at the beginning of this month) celebrates the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach with an album (available for download in its entirety from Amazon.com) of the three cello concertos he composed between 1750 and 1753 during his service to Frederick the Great in Berlin (Wq 170 in A minor, Wq 171 in B-flat major, and Wq 172 in A major). The soloist is the Russian-born cellist Konstantin Manaev. He is accompanied by the chamber ensemble Berliner Camerata, which performs with one musician for each of the ripieno parts: Olga Pak (first violin and leader), Alexey Naumenko (second violin), Tomoe Imazu (viola), Vladimir Reshetko (cello), Berkcan Ertan (bass), and Mira Lange (cembalo),
One would think that this allocation of resources would make for a highly effective historically-informed performance. Readers should thus be made aware that the semantics of “historically-informed” have been given a rather innovative interpretation. The chamber resources are definitely in keeping with how these concertos were performed at Frederick’s court; but just as important is that, like his father, this younger Bach had a particularly well-cultivated sense of virtuosity. While his own instrument was the keyboard, he wanted to make sure that these concertos would be performed by a cellist determined to dazzle Frederick with technical fireworks.
Living in San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to attend performances of two of these concertos during this Bach anniversary year. Thus, I came to this recording with a relatively rich appreciation of the qualities of Bach’s technical demands on the soloist. However, virtuoso cello playing has made great strides over the last 250 years or so. One can still appreciate the skills required to satisfy the scores as Bach wrote them, but this particular recording is one that honors the spirit of Bach’s virtuosity more than it does the letter. This is achieved by a set of cadenzas that Manaev performs that were composed by Aziza Sadikova, each of which is solidly rooted in contemporary practices of making music, rather than those of the eighteenth century.
This approach to the classical repertoire is not without precedent. Perhaps the best known (some might say “most notorious”) example is the cadenza material that Alfred Schnittke composed for Gidon Kremer’s performances of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 61 violin concerto in D major. Sadikova is not quite as extreme as Schnittke (who wrote in an obbligato timpani part). However, like Schnittke, she requires Manaev to explore sonorities that would have been regarded as provocative (if not something stronger) by Frederick and the members of his court.
Personally, I am more than delighted with the results. This is yet another example of how the use of limited resources reinforces the precept that the eighteenth century had its own approaches to “jamming” when making music. Bach clearly knew that his father was a master at such jamming, so it should be no surprise that he would endeavor to follow suit. However, if the inventiveness of “Bach the father” anticipates many of the far-out qualities of John Coltrane, Sadikova’s cadenzas bring “Bach the son” into the domain of Ornette Coleman; and these concertos could not fit better into that domain.