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"The King's Men"

Jermaine Sprosse, harpsichorda, fortepianob

rec: August 12 - 14, 2013, Allschwil (CH), Alte Dorfkirche St Peter und Paul
klanglogo - KL1505 (© 2014) (63'28")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list
Scores CPE Bach

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788): 12 Variations auf die Folie d'Espagne (Wq 118,9 / H 263)a; Sonata IV in A (Wq 55,4 / H 186)a [3]; Sonata in c minor (Wq 65,31 / H 121)b; Carl Friedrich Christian FASCH (1736-1800): Sonata per il Cembalo in Fb [2]; Christoph NICHELMANN (1717-1762): Sonata VI in Fa [1]

[1] Christoph Nichelmann, Sei brevi Sonate da Cembalo massime all'uso delle Dame, 1745; [2] Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (ed), Musikalisches Vielerley, 1770; [3] Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Sechs Clavier-Sonaten für Kenner und Liebhaber, 1. Sammlung, 1779

Frederick the Great - King of Prussia and Elector of Brandenburg - may not have such a good name as far as his contributions to music are concerned as his taste was rather conservative and his own compositions aren't rated that highly - but the music world owes a large corpus of fine music to him, written by composers he appointed as members of his chapel. Among them are the three composers represented on the present disc, all keyboard players by profession.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach is the best-known of the three, and was the most famous keyboard composer of his time. Educated by his father he soon developed his own particular style which is associated by what is generally known as the Empfindsamkeit. It was probably for that reason that his compositions were not very much appreciated by his employer who preferred the galant idiom as his own compositions - mostly concertos and sonatas for his beloved transverse flute - attest. However, it seems very likely that it was also a matter of conflicting characters. Bach probably did not behave as was expected from a servant. He may have been a famous performer and composer, socially he was anything but the equal of royalty and aristocracy. Bach probably also was a bit of a difficult character, not unlike his father, and that could explain that he was in permanent conflict with his colleague, Christoph Nichelmann.

Like Emanuel he was a pupil of the old Bach as he entered the Thomasschule in Leipzig in 1730. He studied keyboard and composition with Bach's eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann, but left Leipzig in 1733 for Hamburg as he was interested in opera. Here he continued his studies with Telemann, Keiser and Mattheson. In 1739 he moved to Berlin where he became a pupil of Johann Joachim Quantz. It was he who may have introduced him to the court chapel of Frederick the Great. In 1745 he was appointed as Königlicher Kammer-Musicus, acting as a substitute for Emanuel Bach as the chapel's harpsichordist. His connection to the court came to an end in 1756. The reasons are not totally clear, but it seems that he was released from his obligations on his own request, probably - as Holger Haushahn and Jermain Sprosse suggest in their liner-notes - because he had enough of his conflicts with Bach. As a composer he contributed especially to the genre of the keyboard concerto: 17 works for keyboard and strings from his pen are known.

Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch is the least-known of the three composers on the programme. He was the son of Johann Friedrich Fasch, for many years Kapellmeister in Zerbst where Carl was also born. He received his first lessons in keyboard playing and theory from his father and violin lessons from the leader of the Zerbst court orchestra. At the age of 14 his father sent him to Johann Wilhelm Hertel, leader of the orchestra at the Mecklenburg court in Strelitz. Here he met Franz Benda, violinist in Frederick's chapel, who recommended him for the position of second harpsichordist. He was appointed in 1756 as successor to Nichelmann. He had a much better relationship with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, probably because he was much younger and less of a rival, but maybe also because they were stylistically more on one wavelength. When Bach moved to Hamburg in 1767 Fasch took his place as first harpsichordist. Not that many of his oeuvre has been preserved because he regularly burnt things he had written as he thought them not worth saving. The largest part of his extant oeuvre comprises vocal music which he wrote in the last stage of his career. Otherwise only one symphony and a number of keyboard works have been preserved.

The pieces Jermaine Sprosse selected for this disc bear witness to the congeniality between Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch and the difference between them and Christoph Nichelmann. The latter's sonata is more 'conventional', so to speak, than the pieces by his colleagues. The first movement is dominated by repeated note patterns, whereas the second movement, although not devoid of elements of the Empfindsamkeit, has clear traces of the galant idiom. He saves technical brilliance for the closing presto. In order to preserve the "plain nature" of this sonata Sprosse added ornamentation in the repeats sparingly. He goes much further in this respect in the Sonata in c minor by Bach and in Fasch's Sonata in F. In the liner-notes he refers to Bach's remarks in regard to the performance of the repeats (Reprisen) in the preface of the Sechs Sonaten fürs Clavier mit veränderten Reprisen (Wq 50): "[The] varied repeat is indispensable today. It is expected from every performer (...). One wishes almost every idea to be changed in the repeat."

These two sonatas are performed at the fortepiano. In the case of Fasch's sonata that seems justified as it was included in a collection published by Emanuel Bach in 1770 - another token of the latter's appreciation of his colleague. At that time the fortepiano was in the process of becoming a more common instrument. However, Bach's Sonata in c minor is from 1757 and at that time the harpsichord was the most frequently-played instrument. A performance on the clavichord would have been a good option here as well. The Sonata in A (Wq 55,4) was published in 1779 and the variations on the Folie d'Espagne date from 1778, but these are played on the harpsichord. That is perfectly legitimate, but a fortepiano or tangent piano - or a clavichord again - would have been appropriate as well, may be even more than the harpsichord. But this is very much a matter of taste, and the choice also depends on what a performer thinks to be the most suitable medium to communicate the character and content of a particular piece. The fortepiano used here - a copy after Johann Andreas Stein - seems a bit too late for Bach's Sonata in c minor.

I am quite impressed about Sprosse's interpretation. I have never heard him before, and it seems that this is his first solo recording. I hope many more will follow, because I think he has a very good feeling for in particular this kind of repertoire. It is clear from his interpretation and the liner-notes that he has given the features of this music and the best way to perform it much thought. The irregularities and surprises which are very much part of the idiom of Bach and Fasch are conveyed convincingly. His restraint in Nichelmann seems appropriate, and under his hands its particular qualities come off perfectly.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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Jermaine Sprosse

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