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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH, Giuseppe TARTINI: "Concertos & Sonatas"


rec: Dec 1 - 3, 2019, Mons (B), Salle Arsonic
Hitasura - HSP006 (© 2020) (81'04")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list
Scores CPE Bach
Scores Tartini

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788): Concerto for keyboard, strings and bc in E minor (Wq 15 / H 418)b; Rondo I in E flat (Wq 61,1 / H 288)b [1]; Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in A minor (D 112)a; Sonata for violin in A minor (B.a1)a; Sonata for violin and bc in G minor (B.g5)a

Source: [1] Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Clavier-Sonaten und freye Fantasien nebst einigen Rondos fürs Forte-Piano für Kenner und Liebhaber, Sechste Sammlung, 1787

Mira Glodeanu (soloa), Tami Troman, Emmanuelle Dauvin, violin; Michel Renard, viola; Jérôme Vidaller, cello; James Munro, violone, double bass; Frédérick Haas, harpsichord (solob)

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Giuseppe Tartini seem a rather unlikely combination. Two composers, from different countries, who never met and who may even not have heard of one another, and exponents of different instruments: the former of the keyboard, the latter of the violin. The choice of these masters for one recording is the result of personal preferences of the two soloists, Mira Glodeanu and Frédérick Haas.

However, it makes much sense to bring them together in one recording. Both were representatives of aesthetical ideals which were different from those of the time in which they grew up. Bach is associated with what is known in German as Empfindsamkeit, often translated into English as the 'sensative style'. It was the human emotion that should be expressed in music, and the performer had to feel this emotion himself, according to Bach. That is not unlike what was the ideal of Tartini, which can probably be best characterised by the title of so many movements in his compositions: cantabile. This was what he missed in Antonio Vivaldi, the greatest violin virtuoso of the previous generation, who in his view too much focused on technical virtuosity.

The two largest pieces are the two solo concertos. Obviously, such pieces are usually not the most personal of a composer, as the performer - often the composer himself in the first place - is not on his own and the room for something like improvisation - following one's feelings during performance - is limited. However, in the two concertos played here certainly the features of their respective styles manifest themselves. There is a lot of sensitivity in Tartini's Concerto in a minor, especially in the slow movement, and that is also the case with CPE Bach's Concerto in e minor. The performers have got it right by selecting concertos in a minor key. In the keyboard concerto we find another feature of CPE Bach's compositional style, known as Sturm und Drang, which is certainly related to the Empfindsamkeit. It means that contrasting emotions follow each other attacca, and the irregularities and strong improvisational traces in especially the first movement are a perfect display of Sturm und Drang.

It has taken some time for CPE Bach's music to become part of the standard repertoire of performers and ensembles. Today, he is a frequently-performed composer. It is a bit different with Tartini, whose time seems not to have come yet. Some concertos are well-known, but a large part of his output in this genre is little-known and is seldom performed. His chamber music is faring even worse. Recently I was able to review several discs with sonatas, whose release was clearly inspired by the fact that his death in 1770 was commemorated in 2020. However, there was no such thing as a Tartini year, and that was not entirely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, Tartini is known to a wider audience for one sonata for violin and basso continuo, generally known as the 'devil's trill' sonata. Its reputation has more to do with the legend surrounding it than with some specific features. It is in no way superior to most of Tartini's chamber music that I have heard. In fact, many other sonatas probably bring us closer to the core of his aesthetic ideals. The Sonata in a minor is a perfect example. It is for violin without accompaniment, which was not very common in his time. In such pieces he is on his own, and can give free rein to his fantasy. He was often inspired by literature, and in particular poetry. This piece also shows that his focus on a cantabile style of composing and playing did not make him omit all virtuosity. This sonata, which characteristically opens with a movement called cantabile, is a set of variations, in which double stopping plays a major role.

It is a bit of a shame that the performers decided to include Tartini's 'devil's trill' sonata as this is available in quite some recordings. His Concerto in a minor also ranks among his better-known works. CPE Bach's keyboard concertos are not that often played, and from that perspective the choice of this piece is very welcome. It dates from around 1745, and at that time the harpsichord was still the main strung keyboard instrument in chamber music and concertos. That justifies Haas's choice for this instrument. That is different in the Rondo in E flat; the recordings that I have in my collection are all on clavichord or fortepiano, and both do more justice to the character of this work that dates from late in CPE Bach's career.

Despite some issues as mentioned above, I have nothing but praise for the performances. Both soloists have grasped the style of the pieces in which they star, very well. The sensitivity both composers aimed at comes off convincingly. They receive apt support from the small ensemble, which plays with one instrument per part, which is certainly an option in this repertoire.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

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