Four of Johann Sebastian Bach's ten sons became composers of note(s). The eldest, Wilhelm Friedemann, had the most benefit of his father's musical tutelage as well as the burden of replicating his father's troublesome relaltionships with churchly employers; both his personal life and his musical output seem thwarted and meager, though he wrote some fine pieces. The youngest son, Johann Christian (1735-1782), received most of his musical training from his half-brother Carl Philip Emmanuel in Berlin and from Padre Martini in Bologna; known as the English Bach for his long and prominent career in London, he was the 'modernizer' of the brood, widely regarded as a major influence on WA Mozart, with whom he performed. He traveled far from Lutheran Germany in other ways also, converting to Roman Catholicism. His older brother by three years, Johann Christoph Friedrich (1732-1795), never got farther than a few days walk from his aging father, spending his whole career in Lower Saxony, but he too was a modest modernizer. Both Emmanuel and Johann Christian achieved reputations in their own era that overshadowed, temporarily, their father's. Woe to us, however, none of the four 'baby Bachs' fathered a musical heir to the multi-generational Bach dynasty.
Among the innovations in music that Bach's sons contributed to was the rapid technical development of the 'fortepiano', from a Rube Goldberg toy utterly unsuitable for performing the Goldberg Variations, into an instrument of such potential that it would eventually supplant the harpsichord and revolutionize instrumental music. The four keyboard concertos on this disc were written for the fortepiano, and the performance on that historical instrument by Susan Alexander-Max has enough authority and musical eloquence to justify its revival. The keyboard idiom, heard on this CD or seen on a page of the score, is patently still 'harpsichordish.' The key distinction, as you'll hear, is the relationship between the keyboard and the accompanying 'orchestra' of strings. Freed from all continuo chores, the fortepiano suddenly finds in its dynamics and variety of attacks a 'vocal' capability that its plucky progenitor never acquired. By the nature of the instrument, a harpsichord concerto is always a team effort, a communal display of timbres. The fortepiano is an 'individual', speaking apart from and even in conflict with the orchestra. The opportunities for expressive romanticism, in the era of Sturm und Drang, should be obvious.
To a 21st Century listener, I suspect, these small concertos will scarcely sound radical or bold. Rather, they will be heard as delightfully formal entertainments from that aristocratic Enlightenment world, before the Age of Revolution. Enjoy them as such then! Two are by Johann Christian and two by Johann Christoph Friedrich. The notes are slightly condescending toward the latter, but I would choose his E flat major, fourth on the CD, as the most exciting. Don't ask me why! I suppose I'm attracted to JCF's gift for melody. Also don't ask me why Ms. Alexander-Max has burdened her fine ensemble with a feeble name like "The Music Collection"! But keep an eye out for future performances.