Meetings of old and new characterise the organ music of C.P.E.
Bach. The composer’s life in the Berlin court of Frederick
the Great was a far cry from the Leipzig of his youth, where
his father’s stubbornly old-fashioned baroque church music
held sway. But C.P.E. returned to ecclesiastical service towards
the end of his life, succeeding Telemann as Kantor at Hamburg.
The continuity that runs through his output is the centrality
of the keyboard to his music. All the works on this disc, whether
written for organ, harpsichord, piano or whatever, demonstrate
an ability to create coherent and engaging sound-worlds without
seriously diverting from the established traditions of voicing
and spacing melodic and contrapuntal lines under the fingers.
The disc presents C.P.E.’s first four organ sonatas interspersed
with shorter, more ecclesiastical works. The sonatas were written
for Princess Amalia, sister to Frederick The Great and a keen,
if not quite virtuoso, organist. So the style is Galant and
the technical demands are limited. Fortunately, C.P.E. rarely
falls back on the stock figurations of the late 18th century,
the Alberti bass or the repeated quaver chords that underpin
so much Clementi and Mozart. Nevertheless, both composers are
occasionally suggested, in the opening movement of the F major
sonata for example. And a consciously civilised classicism often
prevails, as in the last movement of that same Sonata and of
the G minor Sonata. Imitation between the two keyboards, such
as in the first movement of the A minor Sonata, harks back to
music of earlier times, while the richly ornamented adagio and
largo middle movements demonstrate the applicability of baroque
melodic manipulation to the otherwise restrained classicism.
It is tempting to interpret this music in Oedipal terms, yet
its stylistic and technical distance from the organ music of
Johann Sebastian is everywhere apparent. In the opening Prelude
in D major, for example, sequences are used, but within short,
clipped phrases and not as the basis of long structural transitions.
The fugue of the Fantasia and Fugue in C minor is another thoroughly
classical reworking of a baroque genre, displaying a passion
for clarity of texture, which unlike J.S., C.P.E. clearly valued
over contrapuntal ingenuity. The Fugue on BACH makes the point
even more clearly, another light confection, expertly constructed
but stylistically about as far from the Art of Fugue as
you’d think possible over the span of a single generation.
The recording was made on the Mitterreither/Flentrop organ of
Eton College School Hall. The instrument was build in the 18th century
for a church in Rotterdam - hence all the Dutch names in the
registration - was brought to Eton around 1913 and restored to
its original condition in 1973. It would therefore seem to be
the ideal instrument for this repertoire, and Thomas Trotter
achieves a rare lightness of tone without compromising the agogic
punctuation that many of the sonatas outer movements require.
Most of this repertoire is in the ‘pedal optional’ category,
so there is little need for weight at the bass end of the spectrum.
For all that, though, the Fantasia of the Fantasia and Fugue
in C minor seems a little lacking at the bottom, especially given
the rich tones of the punctuating chords in the manuals.
Overall this is a very satisfying recording. Performing repertoire
from historical periods of transition invariably means taking
sides, and Trotter leans these works more towards Mozart than
to Johann Sebastian. But the family resemblance remains strong,
not least in the sheer technical ability that the compositions
demonstrate. Thomas Trotter’s technique and stylistic sensitivity
are as acute here as in any of his recent recordings, so his
fans are unlikely to be disappointed. And for fans of C.P.E.
who are unfamiliar with this repertoire, it offers everything
they could want in terms of courtly sophistication and melodic
elegance, without ever entirely forgetting the earlier musical
virtues of counterpoint, proportion, precision and form.