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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Sonata in B flat major H513 Wq 77 [15:46]
Sonata in C minor H514 Wq 78 [19:27]
Sonata in G minor H545 [9:40]
Sonata in B minor H512 Wq 76 [16:53]
Amandine Beyer (violin)
Edna Stern (fortepiano)
rec. Studio Bohemia Music, Prague, 2005
Notes in French, English and German
Reissue from Zig-Zag ZZT050902
ALPHA 329 [61:46]

CPE Bach sits on the boundary between the late Baroque and the Classical periods. He even hints at the self-expressive style of the young Beethoven. He was hugely influential on his younger contemporaries, even more so than his celebrated father Johann Sebastian. His brother Johann Christian is now more played, despite being a lesser figure. So this disc is welcome for reminding us of his early contribution to the important genre of violin and keyboard compositions. Each of the four sonatas makes for absorbing listening and no purchaser is likely to regret buying this, so long as they are not expecting it to sound as the composer would have expected. The pieces are tuneful, lively and at times quite passionate. It is no wonder Beethoven was impressed. Bach's writing is noticeably more elaborate and sophisticated than in earlier violin works. There is even a suggestion that Brahms was influenced by some of the material development. He did perform the keyboard part of Wq78 in concert in 1863.

The recordings are clean and clear with the violinist placed centrally in front of the fairly large modern-copy Walter piano, well played by the excellent Edna Stern, a professor of piano at our own RCM in London. French baroque violinist Amandine Beyer produces a very focused sound without any inappropriate tonal glamour. The piano is much less convincing and makes this CD only "sort-of" historically informed. It is described in the booklet as a "fortepiano by Paul MacNulty (sic) after Walter". Looking at McNulty's website he lists three Walter models, none earlier than 1790. CPE Bach wrote these works mostly in 1763 and died in 1788. When he died he left no keyboard instrument nearly as modern as this and indeed expressed a lifelong preference for the clavichord. It makes me wonder, if the producers of this issue simply used the only available "period" instrument and did not, or could not, utilise anything more appropriate. This matters because the balance between instruments would be greatly changed if the chosen keyboard were smaller and quieter, as it would be from circa 1765. There is much discussion over the best keyboard for these pieces and it has to be either the harpsichord or early fortepiano. The clavichord, for all that it was a favourite, would have been much too quiet. At the time of his death, we are told, Bach had, amongst many harpsichords and clavichords "a fortepiano or clavecin royal by old Friederici, in oak, with a beautiful tone." Christian Ernst Friederici's instruments were so-called "square pianos", or as he called them "Fortbien", and far quieter and more bell-like than the two metre long Walter instrument used here, which sounds altogether more like a modern piano. CPE was so fond of Friederici's keyboards that he acted as a salesman for the maker. There is no stronger suggestion, if not proof, that this would have been what he expected in performances of these four fine sonatas. Interested listeners are urged to hear David Owen Norris playing one of Johann Christians concerti on a Zumpe and Buntebart instrument of the correct vintage. It is truly another world of sound. Avie AV0014.

I really wanted to enjoy this issue more than I did, but my attention was constantly shifted away from the violin line to that of the over-powerful and anachronistic Walter.

Dave Billinge



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