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Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Trio Sonatas (Wq 144 - 151/H 568 - 575)

Les Amis de Philippe

rec: Jan 31 - Feb 2, 1997, Honrath (Ger), Evangelische Kirche
CPO - 999 495-2 (1.42'42") (2 CDs)

Sonata in G (Wq 144/H 568); Sonata in d minor (Wq 145/H 569); Sonata in A (Wq 146/H 570); Sonata in C (Wq 147/H 571); Sonata in a minor (Wq 148/H 572); Sonata in C (Wq 149/H 573); Sonata in G (Wq 150/H 574); Sonata in D (Wq 151/H 575)

Manfredo Zimmermann, transverse flute; Manfredo Kraemer, violin; Monika Schwamberger, cello; Ludger Rémy, harpsichord

Throughought his career, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach had to deal with the strong influence of his father and the style of composition he represented. Whether that influence really bothered him is not entirely clear. In some of his vocal works, he quotes his father's music, which doesn't look like a reaction against him. In his chamber music, however, he clearly tries to get away from the style of his father. Some of his trio sonatas were written in a style close to that of Johann Sebastian. Later in his life he revised these works in order to eschew the 'baroque' style as much as possible.
In his notes, Andreas Friesenhagen rightly stresses that Carl Philipp Emanuel's attempt to move away from his father's style doesn't imply any contempt of the son for his father's works. He quotes Carl Philipp Emanuel when he told Johann Sebastian's first biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel that he and his older brother Wilhelm Friedemann "necessarily had to choose their own kind of style because they never would have matched their father in his style."

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach has attracted a lot of attention, in particular since the commemoration of his death in 1988. But the interest concentrates on a rather small number of works, mainly his compositions for solo keyboard and his orchestral works. His vocal works and a large part of his chamber music have been neglected. Of the last category, only the flute sonatas and the three quartets for keyboard, flute and bass are regularly played and recorded. Therefore this recording, which is entirely devoted to the trio sonatas, is very welcome.

The form of the trio sonata is closely associated with the baroque style. Basically, it is a form in which all parts are treated equally. Here this is most clearly demonstrated in the Trio sonata in G (Wq 144) where motifs are imitated in all three parts. But in his trio sonatas, Carl Philipp Emanuel tried to develop his own style as well. At the same time as he revised some early trio sonatas (in the 1740's, when he was in Berlin) he composed some new trios which were much more personal in style and clearly different from his older pieces. There is hardly any polyphony left. "Instead of imitating entries in the upper voices, we hear parallel leading in thirds", says Andreas Friesenhagen in the liner notes. There is a stronger influence of the style which is commonly known as Empfindsamkeit - a term which is difficult to translate. In the liner notes it is called 'sensitive style' which gives some indication of what it means. The main feature of the Empfindsamkeit is the growing importance of the personal feelings and emotions of the composer. That is in contrast to the baroque where composers made use of topoi - commonplaces (in the neutral sense of the word) which don't reveal anything about the composer himself (a good example is the lamento bass in the adagio of the Trio sonata in C (Wq 147).

The performance of the ensemble 'Les Amis de Philippe' - a name which refers to Carl Philipp Emanuel - is generally very good. The violinist Manfredo Kraemer clearly understands the demands of the 'sensitive style'. The support from the basso continuo is lively and imaginative throughout. The only criticism is the playing of Manfredo Zimmermann: he produces a beautiful sound, but I would have liked somewhat more differentiation, both in colour and dynamics.

The liner notes are informative, as usual in CPO productions. Unfortunately the booklet only gives the catalogue numbers of the Wotquenne catalogue and not the numbers in the ‘new’ Helm catalogue - therefore I have added them.

As I said before, some sonatas are revisions of older compositions. Most of the originals are lost; Carl Philipp Emanuel, in a letter in 1786, wrote that he had burnt a large number of older compositions. But it is thought that the original of the Trio sonata in d minor (Wq 145) is in fact the Trio sonata for 2 violins and bc in d minor (BWV 1036), which is attributed to Johann Sebastian. I know that CDs don’t have an educational purpose, but it would have been very informative if this sonata had been recorded here as well. There was enough space for it to be included. But let us be thankful for what we have got here.

Johan van Veen (© 2003)

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