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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Selected Fortepiano Works
Sonata in g minor (Wq 65,17/H 47) [11:55]
Fantasia in E flat (Wq 58,6/H 277) [06:22]
Sonata in f minor (Wq 63,6/H 75) [11:52]
Rondo in B flat (Wq 58,5/H 267) [05:41]
Sonata in C (Wq 65,36/H 157) [14:31]
Rondo in c minor (Wq 59,4/H 283) [05:17]
Sonata in b minor (Wq 49,6/H 36) [13:20]
Rondo in F (Wq 57,5/H 266) [06:00]
Sharona Joshua (fortepiano by Christopher Barlow, after Johann Schantz, 1795)
rec. August 2004, St Andrew's Church, Toddington, UK DDD
Experience Classicsonline

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was one of the most important and most influential composers of the 18th century. He wrote music in all genres – with the exception of opera – but was first and foremost a keyboard player. His compositions for the keyboard belong amongst the most innovative of his time.
Two aspects of his keyboard style are especially important. First of all he emphasized the importance of emotion - not just the emotion in the music, but also the emotion of the performer. In his treatise 'Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen' of 1753 he wrote: "A musician cannot move others unless he too is moved. He must necessarily feel all of the affects that he hopes to arouse in his audience, for the revealing of his own humour will stimulate a like humour in the listener".  This shows a fundamental change in the attitude towards emotion from the era of which his father was a representative. Whereas at that time performers were taught to keep the upper part of the body still while playing and to show no emotion at all, Emanuel expressed his own feelings very clearly while playing, as the well-known report by the English journalist Charles Burney testifies.
The emotion he advocated is patently clear in his own music. His compositions are characterised by sudden stops and starts, rhetorical flourishes and sudden harmonic sideslips. I must not give the impression that his compositions lack coherence. It is in the above-mentioned treatise again that Bach himself emphasized that fantasizing isn't the same as aimless wandering, and that all gestures and modulations should be under the strict control of the intellect. Here we see Bach as a representative, not only of the hypersensitive 'Empfindsamkeit', but also of the Enlightenment and its rationalism.
The second aspect – closely linked to the former – is the importance of improvisation. There is little doubt that many of Bach's keyboard works find their origin in his own improvisations. He himself was famous as an improviser, and it is to hear him in this capacity that Charles Burney visited him in Hamburg. His improvisational skills are also the explanation for the seemingly irregular character of many of his keyboard works. Even in pieces written for others – like the 'Württembergische Sonaten', written for his pupil, Duke Karl Eugen von Württemberg – his highly personal style comes to the fore.
One of the subjects of debate as far as interpretation is concerned is the choice of instrument. The 'Württembergische Sonaten' were specifically written for the harpsichord. They date from the early 1740s and at that time the harpsichord was still the dominant keyboard instrument. Bach personally had a strong preference for the clavichord, which is a very intimate instrument and allows the player to make dynamic contrasts which on the harpsichord can only be suggested through the agogic. The fortepiano was starting to become fashionable during the 1760s, and it is known that fortepianos of the organ maker Gottfried Silbermann were purchased for the court in Berlin, where Bach worked until 1768. It is very unlikely that Bach's keyboard works written before the mid-1770s were really meant to be played on the fortepiano.
From this perspective the choice of instrument on this recording is hard to understand. All sonatas - about three quarter of the programme - date from before the mid-1770s and would better be played on the harpsichord or the clavichord. Even in the case of the three Rondos and the Fantasia - written in the late 1770s or early 1780s - a fortepiano by Schanz from 1795 is a rather inappropriate instrument. It seems very likely the fortepianos CPE knew were mostly those made by Silbermann, and these are quite different from the Schanz. The fortepiano was developing fast during the last decades of the 18th century, and there are clear differences between the fortepianos of the early 1770s and the 1790s.
One of the main problems of the instrument used here is that it has more sustain than earlier instruments. As a result the sudden pauses which frequently appear in Bach's works tend to lose their effect. The reverberation of the church where this recording took place only increases this problem. The sustain also tends to muddy fast scales, as in the Fantasia in E flat. Sometimes Sharona Joshua seems to hold back from using the dynamic possibilities of the instrument – mostly with good reason, for instance in the Sonata in g minor which opens the programme. As a result her performance sounds like a piece by Mozart or Haydn played on a modern concert grand. Since the instrument is too 'modern' the innovative character of Bach's music isn't fully revealed.
In addition I am not impressed by Sharona Joshua's playing. Often I found her performance outright boring and lacking in expression. I didn't notice much 'affect' in the middle movement of the Sonata in f minor, despite the character indication of 'adagio affetuoso e sostenuto'. Neither was the last movement very moving and the Rondo in B flat is really flat.
I can't help feeling that Ms Joshua plays the fortepiano with a modern piano technique. The differences in colour which are so characteristic of the fortepiano are hardly explored.
To sum up: an interesting programme spoilt by the wrong choice of instrument and an interpretation which fails to explore the emotional depth of CPE’s keyboard works.
Johan van Veen


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