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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714 - 1788): "The Solo Keyboard Music 11 - Sonatas from 1746-47"

Miklós Spányi, fortepiano

rec: Nov 2001, Ahlden (D), residence of Nikolaus Freiherr von Oldershausen
BIS - CD-1195 (© 2004) (70'04")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Fantasia in E flat (Wq deest / H 348); Sonata in C (Wq 65,16 / H 46); Sonata in g minor (Wq 65,17 / H 47); Sonata in B flat (Wq 65,20 / H 51)

When in 1740 Frederick II became King of Prussia, he started to expand his already elaborate cultural activities. An architect was engaged to build an opera house in Berlin, singers and dancers from Italy and France were contracted and in Sanssouci a palace was built.

In 1741 Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, who since 1738 had accompanied the then Crown Prince when he was playing the flute, became a member of the musical establishment at Frederick's court. In return Bach dedicated a set of six keyboard sonatas, the so-called Prussian Sonatas, to the king. At the same time Bach dedicated another set of six sonatas - the so-called Württemberg Sonatas - to the Duke of Württemberg, another patron of his. "The sonatas in these two collections were more substantial and original in style than were most of the little galant sonatas that Bach and his contemporaries were dashing off in the mid-eighteenth century", Darrell M. Berg states in the liner notes. The pieces played on this disc date from the same time and belong to the same category of "more substantial and original" compositions.

This disc opens with the Fantasia in E flat, which has only fairly recently been recognised as a composition by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. It reminds one of the préludes non mesurés as they were written by the French harpsichord composers of around 1700. There is a lot of variety in tempo in this piece. I find the articulation here unclear and a little muddy, in particular in the fast passages. I don't know whether it is the playing or the rather too reverberant acoustics which is responsible for this. I also feel this piece would perhaps fare better on a harpsichord or a clavichord.

The three sonatas all contain traits of a fantasia, with sudden changes in tempo and rhythm, a characteristic of Bach's keyboard music anyway. The adagio of the Sonata in B flat includes passages with a recitative-like character.

The first movements of the Sonatas in B flat and in C are pretty long: both last almost as long as the two next movements together. But that has also to do with the tempi Miklos Spányi has chosen. In the booklet, Darrell M. Berg writes: "The first two movements of the Sonata in C major ... are organized around a head-motif in the right hand consisting of the descent of an octave followed by an ascending scale and ascending chord figures. At its first appearance this motif, accompanied by a relentless Trommelbass (drum bass) in the left hand, achieves the excitement of a mid-eighteenth-century Italian overture". I don't experience that excitement, mostly as a result of the chosen tempo here, which I feel is too slow. It is marked allegro, but it sounds more like an andante to me. The second movement of this same sonata shows a development in tempo from adagio through andante to allegro. However, I didn't notice that much difference between these three sections.

I was most satisfied with the last item on this disc, the Sonata in g minor. I liked in particular the last movement with its toccata-like character.

I have heard several of Spányi's previous recordings in this remarkable and monumental series devoted to the keyboard works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. I was mostly pleased with the performances, but in this case I am slightly disappointed, in particular since I believe these pieces contain more drama than is displayed here. But as all these compositions have never been recorded before, and Spányi is using a beautiful and historically appropriate instrument (Michael Walker, Neckargemünd, 1999, after Gottfried Silbermann, Dresden, 1749), I don't hesitate to recommend this disc after all.

Johan van Veen (© 2005)

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