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]
(fortepiano by Christopher Barlow, after Johann Schantz,
rec. August 2004, St Andrew's Church, Toddington, UK DDD RUBATO
RECORDS RRLA1104U [75:09]
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.
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