pleasing collection of C.P.E. Bach's works from The Purcell Quartet
has much to commend it. There's beauty, variety, a challenge or
two, something older than its heyday, something borrowed and a
hint of the blues (in the widest sense of that word). The whole
is more than competently explored by the two violins, viola da
gamba and harpsichord of The Purcell Quartet. As an introduction
to the breadth of C.P.E. Bach – or just a delightful collection
of some of his most personable works – this CD can be wholeheartedly
The twelve 'La Folia'
variations (Wq118/9; H263) were published in 1776 and contain
some startling moments of instrumentation, tempo and almost wayward
experimentation with tone. And they make for very compelling listening.
The dance first emerged in Spainin the mid to late sixteenth century
and would have been known in Germanythanks to Corelli's variations
for violin and continuo (Op.5 No.12). Only when one remembers
the self-possessed red-blooded side of Carl Philipp Emanuel's
father, can one really believe that this music - with its jumps,
trills, imitative timbres and rhythms, pauses, attack, parody
and races - is by him. What playing from Robert Woolley. A little
tour de force that ends all too soon and is almost worth the price
of the CD alone!
Containing just as
much substance, and a hidden 'message', is the Trio in C Minor
(Wq161/1; H579) from over 25 years earlier. It's a piece about
whose context you really need to know: the prevailing musical
taste had it in part that music, instrumental music, was only
'about' itself. And that thus it was somewhat inferior - because
it had no words since music was not made of words as such. Bach
wrote this piece with a programme to contradict this assertion.
Subtitled 'Sanguineus and Melancholicus', it is an attempt - through
the two violins, which represent those two of the four humours
- to let these two approaches to life converse. The violins actually
carry on a dialogue, with mute answers, humming, dumb-shows, questions,
answers, ignoring, gambits etc. This is all expressed by changes
in tempo, style and theme. It must have been a gift for Catherine
Mackintosh and Elizabeth Wallfisch, who neither overplay nor miss
a beat. In fact, if you think about it, the only way this will
work is by letting the music - rather than the effect(s) - lead.
Otherwise it wouldn’t be the music 'talking'. Brave!
There are two other
sonate: a viola da gamba (Wq137; H559 from the same period in
Bach's career) and in B Flat Major (Wq158; H584) from six years
later. It's not clear whether Bach was familiar with the viola
da gamba, or whether this was first written for it, or for a violin.
Regardless, the result is poignant, intricate and beautiful. It
demands your full attention. Give it. The melodies and ensemble
playing are highly compelling.
The same goes for
the simple artlessness of the B Flat Trio Sonata with its pizzicato
then string ensemble passages - they are played with such aplomb
here - looking forward at least to Beethoven. These are both little
gems. Not so much because they contain anything groundbreaking
or stylishly spectacular. But because Bach is so clearly in command;
and that has communicated itself completely and transparently
to The Purcell Quartet, whose pleasure and authority are infectious,
now in holding back, now in swelling, now in standing away, almost,
to observe - but never marvel at - their own delicacy and technique.
The CD begins with
a Sinfonia a tre voci in D major (H585, from 1754). This is sprightliness
itself. And the playing is gracious, gorgeous and gregarious:
it's an extrovert work with real substance. Take this with the
other pieces here and offer them to someone with a prejudiced
misperception of the Baroque's 'ornament and restricted range
of emotion'. If they don't change their mind, they haven't a note
of music in their soul. This is splendid, well-chosen and lovely
music - extremely stylishly played with unassuming technical brilliance.
The recording is clean and forward. The quantity, and depth of
explanation in the booklet is a smidgeon lacking, perhaps. But
this is a release to buy, come to know, and love!