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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714 - 1788)
Flute Sonatas
Sonata for transverse flute and bc in G (Wq 123 / H 550) [6:14]
Sonata for transverse flute and bc in e minor (Wq 124 / H 551) [6:02]
Sonata for transverse flute and bc in B flat (Wq 125 / H 552) [7:00]
Sonata for transverse flute and bc in D (Wq 126 / H 553) [7:38]
Sonata for transverse flute and bc in G (Wq 127 / H 554) [6:20]
Sonata for transverse flute and bc in a minor (Wq 128 / H 555) [7:39]
Sonata for transverse flute and bc in D (Wq 129 / H 556) [6:32]
Sonata for transverse flute and bc in B flat (Wq 130 / H 560) [9:17]
Sonata for transverse flute and bc in D (Wq 131 / H 561) [8:58]
Sonata for transverse flute in a minor (Wq 132 / H 562) [10:08]
Sonata for transverse flute and bc in G (Wq 133 /H 564) [6:47]
Sonata for transverse flute and bc in G (Wq 134 / H 548) [8:16]
Sonata for keyboard and transverse flute in D (Wq 83 / H 505) [11:21]
Sonata for keyboard and transverse flute in E (Wq 84 / H 506) [11:28]
Sonata for keyboard and transverse flute in G (Wq 85 / H 508) [10:08]
Sonata for keyboard and transverse flute in G (Wq 86 / H 509) [11:08]
Sonata for keyboard and transverse flute in C (Wq 87 / H 515) [9:16]
Dorothea Seel (transverse flute), Christoph Hammer (fortepiano)
rec. 9-12 February 2015, Barocker Stadtsaal, Hall in Tirol, Austria. DDD
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC 98.057 [76:10 + 86:31]

The transverse flute was one of the most fashionable of instruments in the 18th century. The flute is also one of the oldest instruments in Western music: it has its roots in Byzantium. The first iconographical evidence of its use in specific repertoire is in the manuscript of the Cantigas de Santa Maria (13th century). During the renaissance it was mostly used in ensemble. Technical developments in France in the second half of the 17th century allowed more virtuosic compositions for the flute. In the first half of the 18th century it was a typical 'conversational' instrument, played in domestic surroundings. Sonatas for flute and basso continuo, duets for two flutes and trios and quartets with a part for the flute were produced in large numbers. In Germany Georg Philipp Telemann was one of the main protagonists. The transverse flute figured prominently in several of his collections of chamber music, such as the Essercizii Musici and Der getreue Music-Meister.

Carl Philipp Emanuel, the second son of Johann Sebastian, started to compose for the flute at an early age, when he was still under the guidance of his father. The earliest flute composition from his pen is the Sonata in G (Wq 134) which dates from around 1735. The latest sonata is in the same key (Wq 133) and is from 1786. However, most of his works for the flute were written during his time in Berlin when he occupied the post of court harpsichordist to Frederick the Great of Prussia, a fanatical lover and player of the flute. Whether the King ever played a composition written by his harpsichordist is hard to say. Their relationship was not of the best, and Frederick's taste was probably too conservative really to appreciate what Bach created. Frederick preferred the sonatas and concertos of his flute teacher, Johann Joachim Quantz, and he himself also acted as composer.

Bach had close ties to many people from the higher echelons of society in Berlin, among them not only musicians but also artists and poets. It seems very likely that he played his many keyboard concertos in concerts in Berlin and he may have performed his flute sonatas there as well. However, with the composition of such sonatas he could also improve his standing as a composer. Only one of his flute works was ever published in his life time: the Sonata in a minor (Wq 132) for flute solo. Other works circulated in manuscript.

It is not easy to decide which works in the catalogue of Bach's oeuvre should be considered as being intended for the flute. Many pieces exist in various scorings. One sonata has come down to us in scorings for bass recorder and viola, two violins, flute and violin, bass recorder and bassoon, bassoon and viola, all with basso continuo, as well as for harpsichord with flute or violin and for two harpsichords. Various sonatas which Bach first conceived for flute and basso continuo were later adapted for obbligato harpsichord and flute. In addition there are some sonatas of dubious authenticity and two which are included in the Schmieder catalogue as compositions from the pen of Johann Sebastian (BWV 1020 and 1031). Some scholars believe that they were written by Carl Philipp Emanuel but this view is not universally shared.

This situation explains why recordings of flute sonatas by Carl Philipp Emanuel can strongly differ. The two latter sonatas were included by Barthold Kuijken and Bob van Asperen (Sony, 1993) but omitted by Dorothea Seel and Christoph Hammer. Also they did not include the Sonata in B flat (H 578) which appears in the Kuijken/Van Asperen recording. The latter's disc is called "Complete Flute Sonatas" but they omit all the sonatas for flute and bc which are recorded by Seel and Hammer. The present set includes several sonatas which don't appear all that often in recordings of Bach's flute sonatas, such as the Sonata in G (H 123) and the Sonatas in B flat (H 125 and 130).

One of the most frequently recorded pieces is the Sonata in G (H 564) but I can't remember having heard the first movement being played so fast. It has the indication allegretto which is considered a little slower than allegro; Franz Gratl, in his liner-notes, calls it "moderately fast" but apparently Dorothea Seel and Christoph Hammer have different ideas. Here it takes 3:57; in other recordings I noted 5:44 or even 6:34. That seems more satisfying even though Seel plays it very well. She is a sensitive performer and in almost every other case I found her performances very satisfying.

That also goes for Christoph Hammer's accompaniments in the basso continuo sonatas and for his playing of the obbligato keyboard parts in the other sonatas. However, I am not sure that the fortepiano is the most appropriate keyboard instrument for this repertoire. He plays a copy of an instrument of Gottfried Silbermann of 1749. We are here at an early stage of the history of the fortepiano and Silbermann experimented with his instruments, especially after criticism from Johann Sebastian Bach. Nearly all of CPE Bach's flute sonatas were written before 1749 and even if one takes into account that they may still have been played in the 1750s and 1760s the harpsichord seems the most suitable instrument. In the basso continuo sonatas this fortepiano has little presence; in the opening andante from the Sonata in G (H 550) it is hardly audible. For historical and musical reasons I am not very happy with the choice of a fortepiano.

That no way diminishes my appreciation of the performances by these two artists and of this set of discs, especially as little-known sonatas have been included. Lovers of CPE Bach's music may find here an opportunity to fill some gaps in their collection.

Johan van Veen
www.musica-dei-donum.org
twitter.com/johanvanveen

 

 




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