> BACH Sonatas and Rondos Pletnev [PW]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH
Sonatas and Rondos

1-3 Sonata in g minor 14’15"
4 Rondo in A major 4’36"
5-7 Sonata in c minor 10’18"
8-10 Sonata in D major 4’50"
11-13 Sonata in f sharp minor 12’36"
14 Rondo in d minor 4’36"
15-17 Sonata in G major 7’56"
18 Rondo in c minor 4’41"
19-21 Sonata in e minor 6’57"
22 Andante con tenerezza 6’43"
Recorded in Teldec-Studio, Berlin in October 1998.
Mikhail Pletnev - Piano
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 459 614-2 [78.27]


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Mikhail Pletnev is one of those rare musicians that can make their instrument do anything. Known as a stunning virtuoso of the big 19th and early 20th century repertoire, he showed what he is really capable of a few years ago with his sensational recording of Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas. Here he does much the same thing. This reviewer must point out that he is a fan of period instruments. However, it is artists like Pletnev that provide the best argument against the use of them. Just as he made his modern piano have all the sparkle and edge of Scarlatti’s harpsichord, here he brings to C P E Bach’s sonatas a lightness and clarity that one would think only possible with a fortepiano. At the same time, he makes a quality of sound that is almost magical. It is hard to find a single thing to criticise. Period instrument fan or not, one has to say that this guy really knows what he is doing.

He is helped a lot by his chosen repertoire. How long has C P E Bach dwelt in the shadowy cleft formed by his massive father on one side and Mozart on the other? For so long his era has been only labeled ‘pre-classical’ implying some form of proto- style, undeveloped and awaiting Mozart and Haydn to turn it into a fully fledged chapter of the music history books. Pletnev shows just how wrong this view is in dazzling performances of music that is of nothing less than the absolute first rank. The programme consists of six sonatas and three rondos, as well as the concluding Andante con tenerezza. The differences between these works are striking. We know from Bach’s own writings that the rondos were a commercial product - elegant and simple music aimed at the cultivated amateur market. Pletnev performs them with clarity and elegance. But it is the sonatas that show the real Bach.

C P E was the first composer to move away from the doctrine that each movement or sonata must maintain a single mood or "affect" throughout. Heavily criticised for it in his own time, we can see in this the first stirrings of ‘Sturm und Drang’ and even of the romantics of a century later. The sonatas in g minor and f sharp minor cover the gamut of emotions, expressed through lilting melody, dramatic unison passages or free toccata style virtuosity. Much of the music has the feel of the best Mozart, but there are so many resonances that are more forward looking still. There are bits of Beethoven, harmonic colourings that bring Schumann to mind, and many of the free toccata passages sound more like Saint-Saens’ homages to C P E’s father than they sound like the older Bach himself. The first movement of the wonderful g minor sonata could have been the model for the opening of Saint-Saens’ second piano concerto.

DG has so much experience recording great pianists that there seems little point commenting on the recording quality. They have captured Pletnev completely at ease, sounding like he is making the music up one moment, and exercising the most carefully thought through intellectual rigour the next. A constant succession of drama, thought and beauty recorded with pearl drop beauty of sound and the clarity of Waterford crystal. It is all elegantly packaged with a good background essay by Ulrike Brenning (particularly well translated by Stewart Spencer - Oh, that that could always be said!) There is nothing wrong with this CD. A good bet for another Gramophone award.

Peter Wells

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