Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was born in 1714. This means that 2014 is a
commemoration year. It is to be expected that a number of recordings of his
music will be released. In 1988, when his death was commemorated, he was
still a largely unknown quantity, and the many recordings which were
produced at the time have greatly improved his reputation. Today his music
is far more often performed and he is well represented in the catalogue. The
Swedish label BIS realized two of the most important recording projects
around Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: the complete recordings of his keyboard
concertos and of his oeuvre for keyboard solo.
The chamber music is a lesser-known part of his outuput. The best-known
pieces are the three quartets for keyboard, flute, viola and bass and some
of the flute sonatas. The works for keyboard and violin are not that often
performed. However, the later works in this genre are substantial pieces
which reflect some of the features of Bach's style.
The first attempts in this department date from the 1730s when Emanuel was
still a pupil of his father. Some of his chamber music compositions from
this period are attributed to the latter. This indicates that stylistically
he didn't move far away from Johann Sebastian's style. The
situation was very different some decades later when Emanuel worked at the
court of Frederick the Great. His compositions were such that his employer
didn't enjoy them very much, as he was especially fond of the galant
idiom of which his flute teacher, Johann Joachim Quantz, was an exponent.
However, it is questionable whether the difference is as large as has often
been suggested. Recent explorations of Quantz's music show that one
doesn't do him justice if one considers his music as nothing more
than galant. It seems that the antagonism between Emanuel and Frederick was
largely personal. They just didn't like each other very much. Emanuel
was probably also too self-confident for Frederick's liking - clearly
a legacy from his father.
Most of Bach's chamber music compositions date from these years.
They were not written for performance at Fredericks court, but rather at
the homes of wealthy citizens in Berlin. Here Bach moved in circles of the
bourgeoisie and representatives of the Enlightenment: artists, musicians and
poets. He became acquainted with some of the most renowned writers of his
time, many of whose poems he set to music. A large part of his songs for
voice and keyboard date also from this time. The sonatas show an increase in
emotion and drama. This was probably partly inspired by the Italian operas
he heard at the Berlin opera which was founded in 1741.
The three sonatas recorded here date from 1763 while the Arioso in
was written in 1781 when Bach was director musices
Hamburg. The latter is a piece for keyboard with violin accompaniment. The
violin adds some colour to the keyboard part, but otherwise has no
substantial contribution. The situation differs in the three sonatas,
although here the keyboard has the lead as well. However, in various
movements the two instruments play thematic material of their own. One
sometimes get the impression of the two instruments playing apart. We also
find features that we encounter in his keyboard works and some of the
symphonies: sudden changes in tempo and dynamics and unexpected pauses.
Considering that the works for keyboard and violin are not that well-known
this disc should be most welcome. However, there are several things amiss.
To begin with, the title is misleading: these are not works for violin and
fortepiano - it is the other way around. Moreover, it is highly questionable
whether Bach had the fortepiano in mind while composing the three sonatas.
At that time this instrument had not fully established itself as an
alternative to the harpsichord. It seems very likely that the latter still
had the dominance. These two aspects have a damaging effect on the overall
The violin is often too assertive here. This is not only due to the
approach of the artists, it is also the result of Albrecht Breuninger
playing a modern - or probably 'modernized' - violin. The
instrument is not specified, but as far as I am aware Breuninger has no
credentials at all in the realm of period instrument performances. Also the
sound of the violin clearly suggests that this is no period instrument. In
order not to dominate too much Breuninger has to reduce the volume of his
playing. This has the same effect as a pianist trying to make his instrument
sound like a harpsichord: it detracts from some of the features of the
instrument. The expressive qualities of the violin are not explored.
Dynamically Breuninger's playing is too flat. When he plays forte,
once in a while, the violin overshadows the fortepiano. As a whole these
performances are not very expressive. Sometimes I found them dull,
especially in the Sonata in c minor
The identity of the fortepiano is also not revealed. I have the impression
that this is an instrument - or the copy of such an instrument - from the
latest decades of the 18th century. That could be acceptable in the
Arioso in A
but not in the sonatas. If a fortepiano is to be used
here, it should be an earlier instrument, for instance a Silbermann. I have
to add that Piet Kuijken's playing is not that energetic and he
doesn't fully explore the expressive qualities of the keyboard
All in all, this is rather disappointing. It is very much to be hoped that
this part of Emanuel's oeuvre will be recorded with more appropriate
instruments and in more engaging performances.
Johan van Veen