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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Complete Original Works for Violin & Keyboard
Violin Sonata in D, Wq.71 (H502, 1731) [12:11]
Violin Sonata in d minor, Wq.72 (H503, 1731) [8:42]
Violin Sonata in C, Wq.73/149 (H504, 1731) [15:08]
Sinfonia in D for Keyboard and Violin, Wq.74 (H507, 1754) [9:53]
Violin Sonata in F, Wq.75 (1763) [24:02]
Violin Sonata in b minor, Wq.76 (1763) [18:44]
Violin Sonata in B-flat, Wq.77 (1763) [17:35]
Violin Sonata in c minor, Wq.78 (1763) [20:48]
Arioso con variazioni, Wq.79 (H535, 1781) [11:13]
Fantasia in f-sharp minor, Wq.80 (H536, 1787) [14:36]
Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin)
James Baillieu (piano)
rec. 2018, The Britten Studio, Snape Maltings, Snape, UK

This is a great find: all eight of CPE Bach’s original sonatas for violin and piano in a single release, and a couple of separate pieces. The recording is blessed with wonderful playing and excellent recorded sound, and that should be enough to recommend it, but …

The sonatas for keyboard and violin, as they should be properly called, were composed over the best part of Bach’s career, between 1731 and 1787. They show changes in the composer’s style, which not only mirrored his development from late baroque to the classical period, but the development of the keyboard instruments. It is, therefore, good to have them all together and so easily to map Bach’s stylistic development.

The Violin Sonata in D, Wq.71, leans towards the elder Bach’s style. That is only to be expected, since most composers show an early indebtedness to their teachers and musical parents. CPE Bach was no different. Wq.71 is an attractive work, notably the only one here in four movements, but it is difficult to separate the son from the father. As Emanuel Bach grew in stature as a composer, his indebtedness to Sebastian Bach diminished. When we get to the Sonata in C, Wq.73, composed in the same year, the shadow of the father is only evident in the opening Allegro ma non troppo.

We now come to the Sonata, or as it is more properly known, the Sinfonia in D for Keyboard and Violin, Wq.74. Composed in 1754, it is the only middle-period sonata. Here we clearly see a development in the composer’s style; the move towards the classical period is obvious here. This work not only has an unusual name, but its style is the most symphonic-sounding.

The last four sonatas, composed in 1763, are the true high point. Even here we can see a development. Te Sonata in F, Wq.75, is the weakest, whilst the Sonata in c minor, Wq.78, is clearly the masterpiece among the eight. Bold and at the same time pensive, the opening Allegro moderato demonstrates Bach’s full development. A new depth of expression shows his originality as it points to the style of the late classical period, especially in the slow and quite wonderful Adagio ma non troppo.

The remaining two pieces, both longer than some of the sonatas, followed a few years later. The Arioso con variazioni, Wq.79, is from 1781. The Fantasia in f-sharp minor, Wq.80, followed some six years later.Wq.79, composed during Bach’s Hamburg period, is a little more conservative than his last sonata (in keeping with the likes of his employer Frederick the Great). It is not uninteresting – it shows many qualities of the high classical period – but it just is not as ground-breaking as the later sonatas. Wq.80, on the other hand, shows flashes of brilliance forged from Bach’s later technique. Composed in the typical style of the fantasia, the work is bold and at times passionate, with eleven tempo changes and shifts in style and virtuosity.

This is a very good recording. The exquisite playing of Tamsin Waley-Cohen and James Baillieu is blessed with a nice acoustic and excellent recorded sound. The booklet notes by Philip Borg-Wheeler are quite good too. You may wonder why the “but…” in the opening paragraph. It is just a question of personal taste. I got to know three of the sonatas and the Arioso from the Atma recording by Adrian Butterfield and Laurence Cummings (ACD22313). Cummings plays a harpsichord in the sonatas, and a clavichord in the Arioso. I find this new recording a little heavy in style, a little traditional if you like, in a manner that preceded the original-instrument movement. It is not the (excellent) performance, but the choice of instruments that I find too big: perfectly fine for those who prefer the bigger, bolder style of playing. The original-instrument brigade need to look somewhere else.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: Brian Wilson

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