Classical Music Choice, Spring

Bach Keyboard Concertos Nos 1, 2 and 4, with Murray Perahia and Academy of St. Martin in the Field

Johann Sebastian BachI am certain that few amongst the throng of classical music lovers would shy away from the musical achievements of Johann Sebastian Bach. He can be justifiably proud of moving the Keyboard to centre stage. Amongst the most popular of all his compositions for keyboard, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, composed in first part during 1721 were the fore-runners of the keyboard concerto. It was during his tenure as Director of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum in the 1730s, Bach arranged a series of at least eight solo keyboard concertos. I well remember listening to the lovely Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 composed by Bach and was further delighted to be introduced to Parahia’s soloist-conducted keyboard concertos. This Sony performance is typically stylish as well as discreet.

The Keyboard Concerto No 1 is thought to be based on a lost violin concerto in D minor. This concerto has remained the most popular of the collection from the 19th Century up to today. Interestingly Mendelsshohn played it and Brahms wrote a cadenza for it. I personally really enjoy the character of second keyboard concerto in E major. It is thought that that this one was based on a concerto for a wind instrument, perhaps for the oboe. Bach initially seems to have used this work for church music. In 1938 he restored the music as a keyboard concerto. The Concerto No 4 in A major has very likely stemmed from an earlier concerto, perhaps again one for the oboe. Bach performed this concerto at least twice, himself once in 1739 and then in 1742. We are often left wondering- did the great composer write these pieces for the harpsichord or the fortepiano? In 1733 a local newspaper from Leipzig reported that “Bach’s group would now feature a “Clavicymbel”, the likes of which has not been heard before”. This suggests that Bach’s keyboard concertos were indeed designed to highlight the fortepiano, still relatively unknown to Saxon listeners.

I am often reminded that as I listen and enjoy this music, these are really the forerunners to the later piano concertos of Mozart and Beethoven. What an important development, that would evolve into some of the best-loved music in the classical repertoire. There are a number of recordings of these three keyboard concertos available and Adras Schiff, like Perahia commands a wide range of colours, but I must say I cannot fault the Sony recording.

This CD is available from and will certainly inspire the first-time listener to explore more of Bach’s works and perhaps tempt them to try Perahia’s great performances of Mozart.

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