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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Freye Fantasie Wq 67 (1787) [11:14]
Sonate II Wq 57 (1781) [12:16]
Rondo II Wq 59/4 (1785) [5:15]
Fantasie Wq 117/12 [0:28]
Fantasie Wq 117/11 [0:34]
Fantasie Wq 117/8 [0:32]
Fantasie Wq 112/8 [1:02]
Claviertstück für die rechte oder linke Hand allein Wq 117/1 [2:35]
Solfeggio Wq 112/10 [0:54]
Solfeggio Wq 117/4 [0:31]
Solfeggio Wq 117/3 [0:48]
Solfeggio Wq 117/2 [0:54]
Rondo II Wq 55 (1787) [4:34]
Sonate VI Wq 55 (1779) [18:02]
Fantasie II Wq 59/6 (1785) [7:27]
Alexei Lubimov (tangent piano)
rec. 2008, Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekapel Elzenveld, Antwerp
ECM NEW SERIES 2112 [67:30]

I was a great admirer of Alexei Lubimov’s Debussy Préludes on ECM (review) as well as his work in contemporary repertoire with composers such as John Cage. Having also been made aware of his dedication to interpretations of Baroque music on period instruments, I was keen to explore this C.P.E. Bach recital on tangent piano.

The tangent piano is one of numerous variants on keyboard instrument design during the transition between harpsichord and clavichord towards the fortepiano. It saw some popularity early in the 18th century, its mechanism striking freely vibrating strings from beneath with wood or metal “tangents”. Comparison with the clavichord is tempting and the two instruments do share a wide expressive range, though the latter sustains through contact between tangent and string while the tangent piano has an escapement, hitting and releasing the string more like a fortepiano. The sound is indeed something like a cross between a clavichord and a fortepiano, with metallic overtones but a wide variety of dynamic, colour and other expressive possibilities – certainly better for C.P.E. Bach’s often explosive range than a harpsichord, but an entirely different kettle of fish than Mikhail Pletnevs’s marvellous but sometimes quirky modern piano recording on Deutsche Grammophon (review).

Recognised in his lifetime as the leading pioneer of a new age in music, C.P.E. Bach’s keyboard works combined a new taste for expressive range with demands for refinement in performance. The works chosen for this recording all come from his later years, bringing together the genres on which he focussed: the fantasy, the rondo and the sonata, as well as smaller Solfeggi. The contrasts between extreme examples such as the rhetorically rich Rondo II Wq 59/4 and the almost aphoristic Fantasies that follow giving a full and rounded picture of a composer overflowing with inventive ideas, and delivering a vibrant sense of individuality that has to be seen as a line leading towards Beethoven and beyond. The Claviertstück für die rechte oder linke Hand allein Wq 117/1 is a single-line exercise, enchanting in its right-hand iteration, more like an organ pedal-study in the left. Some of the Solfeggi are great fun, the Solfeggio Wq 117/4 striking for its stride left-hand, Wq 117/2 a rather familiar miniature toccata. The Andante from Sonate VI has an exotic, music-box quality that has to count as another highlight, and the final Fantasie II opens out from damped strings to add further tints to an already rich palette. With scenic contrasts that range from coquettish romance to dramatic moments of Sturm und Drang, it unfolds like a wordless opera.

The tangent piano has cropped up before in recordings of C.P.E. Bach’s music but remains a rarity. There is Giovanni Togni’s nicely recorded and elegantly performed album on the Dynamic label (review), as well as in some rather magical chamber music with Aline Zylberajch on the Encelade label (review). With its well-chosen and superbly played programme, this ECM disc is a treasure trove of fine music from Bach’s most innovative son. The recording is detailed and bright without being fatiguing, the acoustic of the gorgeous historic venue adding vital spaciousness to the sound.

Dominy Clements



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