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Berlin Sonatas Carl Friedrich ABEL (1723-1787)
Sonata for violoncello and basso continuo in G major [WKO 147] (1782)
[8:20] Johann Christoph Friedrich BACH (1732-1795)
Sonata for violoncello and basso continuo in A major (1770) [12:04]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Claviersonata in G Major Wq 62/19 [11:11] Franz BENDA (1709-1786)
Progressive etude No. 25: Allegro moderato
(pub. 1814) [1:16]
Caprice No. 16: Moderato (pub. 1800/4) [3:11] Johann Philipp KIRNBERGER (1721-1783)
Sonata for violoncello and basso continuo in C major (1769) [15:17]
Carl Friedrich ABEL
Sonata for violoncello and basso continuo in A major [WKO 148] [8:50]
Carl Heinrich GRAUN (1704-1759)
Sonata for Violoncello Solo in C major, GraunWV B:XVII:53 [13:42]
Elinor Frey (five-string cello)
Lorenzo Ghielmi (Silbermann fortepiano)
Marc Vanscheeuwijck (bass violin (Abel WKO 148))
rec. 2014, Chiesa dei Ss. Eusebio e Vittore, Peglio,
Italy PASSACAILLE 1006 [74:04]
The five-string cello isn’t encountered very often
these days, but Elinor Frey’s booklet notes for this release tell us
that it was once a member of the bass violin family and by no means
as uncommon as it is today. Bach’s Sixth Suite specifies such
a cello, and there are certain technical advantages to having, literally,
an extra string on which to apply one’s bow.
The sound of the cellos in this recording are somewhere between a normal
cello and an earlier gamba style instrument – fairly bright in tone
and with a less deep ‘singing voice’ than you might expect. Having it
expertly accompanied on the fortepiano puts us straight into the right
period and mood for some supeb 18th century chamber music.
Carl Friedrich Abel brings us in with stylish aplomb, the cello being
explored over its whole range, with double-stops and some fun little
flageolet flourishes. This is light entertainment but none the worse
for that. The central Adagio is charming, and the final Rondeau
is played using the ‘pantaleone’ stop on the piano, which makes
it sound like a hammered dulcimer. The Sonata in A major further
along with basso continuo isn’t quite as exciting but introduces yet
another colour combination into this surprisingly varied programme.
Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach’s Sonata in A major uses the
slow-fast-slow movement order known in some quarters as the “Berlin
schema”. This along with brother C.P.E. Bach’s Claviersonata brings
us into the expressive world of the Empfindsamer stil, in which
dynamic change and melodic shapes both dramatic and intimately confiding
can exist in close proximity. Carl Philip Emanuel’s solo sonata makes
a fine companion to J.C.F. Bach’s enjoyable but less adventurous work.
C.P.E. Bach’s music still has the element of surprise, the spiky little
notes flying out of the opening Allegro assai movement keeping
us guessing and gasping. Lorenzo Ghielmi plays with attractive wit,
the central Andante played with a knowing smile, and the virtuoso
final Presto with swinging rhythmic verve.
Franz Benda’s didactic solo pieces give the cello something of a workout,
but have also absorbed some of that Empfindsamkeit so beloved
of the Bach brothers. The two short pieces also give us a break from
the fortepiano – not that this is really needed, but making its return
in Johann Philipp Kirnberger’s Sonata in C major all the more
welcome. Kirnberger is known for his theoretical work, but also composed
for his employer Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia. The Princess owned
three fortepianos and was clearly a fan of the expressive potential
in this instrument, here heard at its best in the spread chords and
suspensions in the central Adagio. Little chromatic surprises
juice things up along the way, and the last movement is a substantial
and wide-ranging Cantabile e variazioni.
The final work is left to Carl Heinrich Graun, a Sonata in C major
which also exists in a version with flute. Graun was educated in
Dresden but became leader of Frederick the Great’s court orchestra.
This is a fine work with plenty of space left for, and gratefully taken
up by the soloist for some lovely cadenza-like improvisation. Graun’s
music is more stately and certainly not given to jokes in the way C.P.E.
Bach’s music can be, but one can imagine hearing such music at a distance
and being attracted into the candle-lit hall in which the music is happening.
Indeed, all of the music and the way it has been recorded and performed
creates a magnetic effect. I am full of admiration for all of these
musicians and the way they have brought these Berlin Sonatas to
life. These may seem at first glance like a dry selection of composers
but nothing could be further from the truth. We’re given a healthy dose
of “the mid-century Berlin aesthetic” and come away feeling enlightened,
elevated, and royally entertained.