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Christoph SCHAFFRATH (1709 - 1763): 6 Sonatas for Harpsichord Op. 2

BorbŠla Dobozy, harpsichord

rec: Nov 17 - 18, 2007 & April 8, 2008, Hungaroton Studio
Hungaroton - HCD 32566 (© 2008) (71'51")

Sonata in F, op. 2,1; Sonata in e minor, op. 2,2; Sonata in G, op. 2,3; Sonata in c minor, op. 2,4; Sonata in B flat, op. 2,5; Sonata in g minor, op. 2,6

Christoph Schaffrath was one of the musicians/composers who were connected to the court of King Frederick the Great of Prussia. He was already appointed as member of his chapel before he was crowned king in 1740. An earlier attempt to become organist of the Sophienkirche n Dresden had failed, when it was Wilhelm Friedemann Bach who got the job. From 1741 on he shared the job of the court's harpsichordist with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. In this capacity he was surrounded by some of the finest musicians in Germany, like the flautist Quantz, the Grain brothers and the two Bendas, Franz and Georg. In 1744 he entered the service of Frederick's sister, Princess Anna Amalia, an ardent lover and collector of music.

Schaffrath was a generally respected performer, who not only performed as chamber musician at Anna Amalia's court but also appeared in the homes of the aristocrats of Berlin. Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg, composer and theorist, wrote about him that he "is known to the world by means of his beautiful compositions well-liked everywhere, some of the pieces written for the keyboard have become widely known in print". Schaffrath wrote exclusively instrumental music, partly for other musicians at the Berlin court - like the gambist Ludwig Christian Hesse - but mostly for his own use. According to New Grove Schaffrath composed at least 13 keyboard concertos, but Anna Scholz, in her programme notes to this recording, talks about at least 63 concertos. She is right that Schaffrath's oeuvre has hardly been explored yet. In 2006 CPO released an important recording of chamber music with the ensemble Epoca Barocca. This release of the six keyboard sonatas opus 2 is another interesting addition to the catalogue. To my knowledge this is the first disc ever to be devoted to Schaffrath's music for keyboard solo.

These sonatas are evidence of the description given in the review of the disc with chamber music just mentioned. Rather than the style of the Empfindsamkeit it is the galant idiom which is predominant in these sonatas. Schaffrath is mostly interested in writing pleasing melodies: the sonatas are predominantly in two parts, with the left hand being reduced to accompanying the right hand which has the melody. There is hardly any polyphony - with one exception: the second movement of the Sonata in g minor, op. 2,6 is a fugue, which is very much written in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach, making it a kind of FremdkŲrper in this set.

This doesn't mean that these sonatas are superficial - the music is quite good and well-written. The galant idiom doesn't prevent Schaffrath from including expression now and then. The poco adagio from the Sonata in G, op. 2,3 is a good example. It is here that we find some influence of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and the Empfindsamkeit, as the movement contains sudden pauses and contrasts. BorbŠla Dobozy plays it with good feeling for its dramatic character.

The same can be said of the last sonata, which is the only one in four movements. I already referred to the second movement, a Bachian fugue. The sonata begins with a quite dramatic poco allegro, which is performed with panache by Ms Dobozy. The fugue is followed by another expressive adagio and the sonata ends with a lively allegro.

This is no ground-breaking stuff, but highly entertaining nevertheless, and this set of six sonatas also gives a good idea of the style of composing in the era between baroque and classicism. BorbŠla Dobozy gives a fine account of these sonatas, and the recording is very pleasant and acoustically satisfying. The booklet contains an informative essay about Schaffrath and his historical context.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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BorbŠla Dobozy

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