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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline

Carl Philippe Emmanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Keyboard Concertos and Solo Keyboard Music - Volume 15
CD 1 - The Concertos
Concerto in D minor Wq 23 H 427 (1748) [26.41]; Sonatina in Eb Major Wq 105 H464 (c.1765) [20.56]; Concerto in B flat major Wq 39 H465 (1765) [25.18]
Miklós Spányi (tangent piano)
Ensemble Opus X/Petri Tapio Mattson
rec. Siuntio Church, Finland, October 2004
CD 2 - The Solo Keyboard Works  Sonatas and ‘Petites Pičces’(3) (1755-59)
La Gabriel, Wq 117/35 (H 97) [4:01];  La Philippine, Wq 117/34 (H 96) [2:55]; La Caroline, Wq 117/39 (H 98) [3:50]; Allegretto in F major, Wq 116/19 (H 301) [0:58]; Allegro in D major, Wq 116/20 (H 302) [0:54]; Sonata in A minor, Wq 65/33 (H 143) (I. Allegretto [5:29]; II. Adagio ma non troppo (La Guillelmine) [3:30]; III. Tempo di minuetto (La Coorl) [2:51]); La Xenophon & La Sybille, Wq 117/29 (H 123) [7:28]; La Sophie, Wq 117/40 (H 125) [6:43]; L’Ernestine, Wq 199/16 (H 685.5) [1:07]; L’Auguste, Wq 117/22 (H 122) [2:46]; Sonata in D minor, Wq 62/15 (H 105) (I. Allegro moderato [4:02]; II. Larghetto [4:03]; III. Allegretto [2:32]); L’Ernestine, Wq 117/38 (H 124) [6:46]; Andantino in D minor, Wq 116/18 (H 108) [5:12]
Miklós Spányi (clavichord)
rec. Lumijoki Youth Association Hall (Lumijoen Nuorisoseura), Finland, July 2003
Two discs for price of one
BIS CD1422 [67:22 + 73.38] 


Experience Classicsonline

It was an eminently sensible idea of BIS to combine into a double album
these two discs in the complete edition of C.P.E. Bach’s keyboard works. If you started with Volume 1, as I did, you have been collecting since 1995. At that time Miklós Spányi worked with Concerto Armonico and used a harpsichord. Volume 6 introduced the fortepiano and Volume 8 the tangent piano which has been a continuing thread. It is a beautiful instrument which sounds midway between a harpsichord and a fortepiano and can therefore be quite expressive. 

They have saved one of the finest of Bach’s concertos until this volume: that is the D minor Wq 23 not to be confused with another fine D minor concerto H425 recorded on volume 13. 

Volume 14 used the Ensemble Opus X and so does volume 15. This change from using Concerto Armonico was brought about when the series production moved from Hungary to Finland. Ensemble Opus X has a somewhat different, arguably more brittle sound, which oddly enough, seems to work especially well with the tangent piano. 

I have known and loved the wiry D minor work for many years ever since I first heard it on an  LP on the old Concert Hall label;  I suspect many of you ‘of a certain age’ remember them. It was the only concerto in print until quite recently. Although the instruments were modern it was played with considerable passion and attack as it is here except possibly in the third movement where I was quite surprised at the amount of legato phrasing. Whilst this made a contrast with the spiky, typically wild and disjunct lines of the rest of the music it does seem to be slightly out of place. I would love to see in the score whether C.P.E. has left us any phrasing marks, and find out how much comes down to the performers from the composer? Anyway the fingerprints of this great composer are all there. 

These comments do not apply to the elegant Bb major concerto (Wq39).This is a reconstruction of an earlier oboe concerto, one of two; the other in Eb major can be heard on volume 14. The style here is ‘galante’ - at times I thought I was listening to J.C. Bach. However the middle movement is too long and intense for J.C. and again certain C.P.E. traits are audible. The outer movements, an Allegretto and an Allegro Moderato are especially charming. The tangent piano, now no longer in its infancy but used and developed fully in recent times, seems ideally suited to these movements. That said, I feel that I want something a little more expressive in the slow one. 

The concertos are divided by a curious work for keyboard, strings and some wind doubling with horns especially notable in the third movement. It is entitled ‘Sonatina’. The other two of these Sonatina works have appeared in earlier volumes. They are shorter and lighter than the concertos; more friendly and far less virtuoso. Falling into three movements the present Sonatina is a most engaging work, beginning with a fairly slow movement followed by an Allegro and finally a Minuetto in which the material given to the strings is often answered by an ornamented keyboard line. 

I have not been collecting discs in this part of the series so cannot make direct comparisons. So let’s take it as it is.

The instrument used here is a clavichord - the same one used in the recording of volumes 10, 12 and 14. In the interim the pitch has now settled to be a little sharper than earlier. The instrument is a copy made in 1999 by Joris Potvlieghe of a clavichord made by Gottfried Horn of Dresden in the 1780s. CPE especially liked Horn’s instruments. It has a particularly fine resonance and some dynamic contrast which is unusual in a clavichord. The two Sonatas, which are of about the same length, were aimed at the amateur market. They are attractive and elegant three movement works. The D minor ends with a graceful Allegretto and the A minor with a spiky Minuet in rondo form. Both first movements are in binary form alla Scarlatti. In his booklet notes Darrell Berg tells us that “movements 2 and 3 of the A minor may well originally have been character pieces” as they have titles of ‘La Guillelmine’ and ‘La Coorl’ for reasons he explains. Talking of character pieces, there are nine of them recorded, for example the last track on the CD ‘La Louise’ is a little Rondo which C.P.E. used in other contexts. The identity of this Louise remains elusive. 

Of the remaining ‘character pieces’ but equally elusive in identity and especially interesting it seems to me is ‘La Xenophon and La Sybille’ played as da capo pair. As Miklos Spányi points out in his fascinating ‘Performers Remarks’, these character pieces were, in Bach’s mind, interchangeable with Sonata movements. The rather serious ‘La Philippine’ finds itself as the opening movement of a Sonatina in C major (Wq 103). Equally fascinating is that some pieces, for instance ‘La Sophie’, also served as songs because a text is supplied which works for the right-hand melody of the keyboard part. Spányi describes this as “an exciting example of cross-over”. To add to the confusion, the three movements listed with Italian speed indications, were probably intended to be character pieces. I first heard them one after the other as little sonata in three differing keys - quite fun. Probably composed, again, for didactic reasons, these are binary-form structures and Spányi has composed the ornamentation for the repeated sections.

In truth some of these pieces are a little trivial but if you like the C.P.E. of the ‘sturm und drang’ mood then ‘La Gabriel’ and ‘La Caroline’ - who might have been a moody daughter – like father like daughter perhaps - will excite you. 

I cannot speak too highly of this double album and also of this mammoth series as a whole. Many of the musicians listed here have been almost constantly engaged in this grand endeavour for almost two decades. They have given extraordinarily wonderful performances. The performance practice is richly informed by academic research that has quietly gone on in the background. This work, by Peter Wollny, amongst others is credited by Spányi. It was very much needed, not only because we have now reached a point in the ‘Early Music’ movement when an in-depth study of a great individual creative mind was necessary but also because so much has been learned along the way about suitable instruments and performing techniques appropriate for the time and place in which C.P.E. lived. I suspect however that only those of you with a large library space will have bought every volume to date, however a random dipping into a just a few of the CDs as spur of the moment purchases, would, I am sure, never disappoint. 

Gary Higginson 



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