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Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714 - 1788)
The Solo Keyboard Music, Vol. 19 - Various Pieces from the 1760s
Variations on 'Ich schlief, da träumte mir' in F (Wq 118,1 / H 69) [17:13]
Sonata in E flat (Wq 65,42 / H 189) [14:14]
Polonoise in g minor (Wq 116,22 / H 154) [1:52]
Allegro in C (Wq 116,21 / H 153) [2:40]
Variations on an Arietta in A (Wq 118,2 / H 155) [9:04]
Sinfonia in F (Wq 122,5 / H 227) [15:42]
Miklós Spányi (tangent piano)
rec. July 2004, Liminka Church, Finland. DDD
BIS CD-1493 [62:18]
 
The Solo Keyboard Music, Vol. 20 - Sonatas from 1760-66
Sonata in B flat (Wq 65,34 / H 152) [13:12]
Sonata in D (Wq 65,40 / H 177) [15:40]
Sonata in g minor (Wq 62,23 / H 210) [14:53]
Sonata in C (Wq 65,41 / H 178) [17:36]
Sonata in B flat (Wq 65,45 / H 212) [13:42]
Sonata in B flat (Wq 65,45 / H 212):
allegro (alternative third movement, early version) [4:16]
Miklós Spányi (clavichord)
rec. June 2007, Heikki Sarvela Hall, Liminka, Finland. DDD
BIS CD-1623 [80:47]

It is generally assumed that Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's time at the court of Frederick the Great was not the happiest episode in his life. He was hardly appreciated by his employer, whose rather conservative taste was at odds with Bach's adventurous and experimental style. However, as he was only second harpsichordist and therefore not always needed to accompany Frederick playing the flute, he had time to perform in the private homes of the rich and famous in Berlin and to compose. A considerable number of keyboard works were written at that time.
 
The first of these two discs includes various forms of keyboard work of a quite different character. Two of these comprise themes with variations, a genre which would become very popular in the second half of the 18th century. They belong to the kind of repertoire written for amateur players. The song which is the basis of the Variations in F was also used by other composers. It is a rather simple melody of the kind which goes down well with audiences and amateur performers. As one would expect Bach's variations are not virtuosic, but varied in character and nice to listen to ... and to play, one may assume. The Variations in A are played here in a compilation from two sets. The first included variations by several composers; here the variations by Bach have been combined with variations he composed some years later. The identity of the Arietta has not been established as yet. In both pieces the various registrations which the tangent piano allows are well explored.
 
The Polonoise in g minor belongs to a genre which was quite popular at the time. Polonaises can also be found in the Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach, some of them also by Carl Philipp Emanuel, others probably from the pen of his father. The Allegro in C was originally intended for a mechanical clock, and that is easily recognizable.
 
A piece of an unusual character is the Sinfonia in F. It is the transcription of the Symphony in F (Wq 181/H 656). It shows the many twists and turns which appear in many of Bach's symphonies, especially the six for strings (Wq 182). Among them are sudden modulations, unexpected pauses and tensions which are never resolved. The tangent piano with its considerable dynamic range and its colour palette is the perfect vehicle for this 'orchestral' keyboard work.
 
Some of Bach's sonatas also have orchestral features. The Sonata in E flat is an example: the first movement includes rising arpeggios - often called 'Mannheim rockets', after the composers at the Mannheim court, especially Johann Stamitz - and drum basses. The middle movement, on the other hand, has a more vocal character.
 
This sonata dates from 1765. The five sonatas on the second disc (vol. 20) date from the same period: 1760 to 1766. At this time Frederick the Great was involved in the 'Third Silesian War' which consumed time and money. As a result the amount of musical activities was strongly reduced. It gave Bach even more time to write keyboard works, and especially sonatas. Many of them were printed, but not all: four of the five sonatas on the programme were never published. That doesn't mean that they were not known: it is very likely they circulated in manuscript.
 
In his 'Performer's Remarks' Miklos Spányi states that the sonatas from this period are more 'classical' than earlier sonatas. With that he means that the "fabulous, colourful mountain landscapes and high drama of so many sonatas" and the "lyrical intimacy and pronounced symplicity of many of the smaller-scaled 'easy' sonatas" have made way for a greater equilibrium, in which the said qualities are incorporated.
 
The sonatas on this disc certainly show that equilibrium, but they are not devoid of expression. That comes to the fore, for instance, in the Seufzer of the opening allegretto from the Sonata in B flat (Wq 65,45/H 212) and the molto adagio e sostenuto from the Sonata in g minor. Also notable are the strong dynamic contrasts in the opening movements from the Sonata in B flat (Wq 65,34/H 152) and the Sonata in D. Several movements include elaborate ornamentation, such as the slow movement from the Sonata in g minor and the closing movement from the Sonata in B flat (Wq 65,45/H 212). The latter is the second version; the first is somewhat longer and was later replaced by Bach.
 
The generally more intimate character of these sonatas come off ideally at the clavichord. The instrument is very responsive to any action of the player and allows a very fine dynamic shading. One needs some time to get accustomed to the instrument's very low volume. As these sonatas were written for private use the clavichord is a very appropriate instrument here. Miklos Spányi is one of the world's main specialists in this repertoire and as in previous volumes he catches the spirit of Bach's keyboard music perfectly.
 
These two volumes are indispensable for those who want to become familiar with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and his time.
 
Johan van Veen
http://www.musica-dei-donum.org
https://twitter.com/johanvanveen

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