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Bach CPE sonatas CDA68381
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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Sonatas and Rondos
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
rec. 2021, Mechanics Hall, Worcester, USA
HYPERION CDA68381/2 [63:32 + 77:29]

Every so often a recording comes along which excites, totally satisfies and ticks all the right boxes; this disc is one such. C.P.E. Bach was regarded as the most significant keyboard composer of his time. He was the fifth child and second surviving son of J.S. Bach, godson of Georg Philipp Telemann and was appointed to the court of Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, later Frederick the Great. He became one of the first virtuosos, becoming famous for his Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments. His keyboard sonatas formed a bridge between his father and Haydn. In fact, he was regarded as the most significant keyboard composer of his time, not only in his native country, but also throughout Europe. He was greatly admired by Mozart. Marc-André Hamelin offers a selection of sonatas and rondos, demonstrating the range, contrasts and imaginative scope of these highly distinctive works.

For the most part, the sonatas are cast in the fast-slow-fast three movement form, with outer movements brimming over with energy and rhythmic vitality, giving the performer the opportunity for virtuosic display. There’s a wide range of emotions, with both drama and melancholy. The music has a startling originality, soused with wit and flourish, with the composer unafraid of venturing down the byways of adventurous harmonic language. From his father Johann Sebastian he learned the art of brilliant counterpoint. The rondos and fantasias are no less interesting. Not only does this music work well on the modern piano, but there’s enough variety to focus one’s attention throughout.

One work which, to my mind, demonstrates the composer’s skilful craftsmanship and imaginative range is the Sonata in D major H286 Wq61/2. The opening movement, marked Allegro di molto, is quirky in its rhythmic complexity. The Presto finale is in similar vein, with witty asides tossed back and forth. L’Aly Rupalich, a brief character piece, is punchy and rhythmically charged. The Sonata in F minor H173 Wq57/6 truly anticipates the later sonatas of Haydn, it has a lovely middle movement which sounds quite improvisatory in character. The short L'Herrmann, the penultimate piece on CD 2, is somewhat similar.

Abschied von meinem Silbermannischen Claviere, in einem Rondo (Farewell to my Clavier built by Silbermann) is an elegy to an instrument. Quiet and reflective, prayerful and introspective, the whole piece is cloaked in intimacy. The theme of the Arioso with 9 variations in C major is elegant and refined. It’s followed by a set of well-crafted variations which reveal a wealth of invention. The C minor Solfeggio, in the style of a toccata, is a popular piece, especially with piano students, as it lies well under the fingers. Its sequences of scales and arpeggios recall J. S. Bach's Little Prelude in C minor BWV 939. In Hamelin’s hands it truly sparkles.

Marc-André Hamelin’s stunning virtuosity, sheer musicality and sense of drama showcase these magnificent works at their best. The bright-sounding Steinway and perfect acoustic, all add up to a winning combination. The scholarly booklet notes are the work of Mahan Esfahani, conveniently translated into French and German. This release is already a strong contender for one of my Recordings of the Year.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 [63:32]
Sonata in A minor H247 Wq57/2 [9'21]
Rondo in E major H265 Wq57/1 [8'07]
Fantasia in C major H291 Wq61/6 [6'07]
Sonata in E minor H66 Wq62/12 [15'49]
Abschied von meinem Silbermannischen Claviere, in einem Rondo H272 Wq66 [7'56]
Arioso with 9 variations in C major H259 Wq118/10 [13'38]
March in G major BWVAnh124 [1'22]
Solfeggio in C minor H220 Wq117/2 [0'59]

CD 2 [77:29]
Rondo in C minor H283 Wq59/4 [4'40]
Sonata in F minor H173 Wq57/6 [12'45]
L'Aly Rupalich H95 Wq117/27 [2'48]
Sonata in D major H286 Wq61/2 [5'12]
Sonata in A flat major H31 Wq49/2 [14'11]
Rondo in B flat major H267 Wq58/5 [5'14]
Sonata in E minor H281 Wq59/1 [7'29]
La complaisante H109 Wq117/28 [2'55]
Rondo in E major H274 Wq58/3 [4:06]
Freie Fantasie fürs Clavier in F sharp minor H300 Wq67 [12'16]
L'Herrmann H92 Wq117/23 [2'53]
La Prinzette H91 Wq117/21 [2'46]

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