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Keyboard Music in the Empfindsamer Style
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Württemberg Sonata No. 6 in b minor (Wq 49,6/H 35)* [18:07]
Johann Gottfried MÜTHEL (1728-1788)
Arioso and 12 variations in G ** [12:57]
Arioso and 12 variations in c minor** [14:42]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH
Variations on Folies d'Espagne (Wq 118,9/H263)*** [8:57]
Preethi de Silva (harpsichord*/***, fortepiano**)
rec. June and July 1983, Bridges Hall of Music, Pomona College, Claremont, Ca.*/**; 18 May 2010, Garrison Theatre, Scripps Performing Arts Center, Claremont, Ca.***, USA ADD*/**, DDD***

Almost all the members of the Bach family were keyboard players, and several were known for their virtuosity. That also goes for the generation of the sons of Bach. Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel, Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian: they were all highly-skilled at the keyboard. However, in the second half of the 18th century the use of the name Bach in connection with the keyboard always referred to the second of them: Carl Philipp Emanuel. He was highly admired as a player of and composer for the keyboard. In the latter capacity he had a marked influence on the three great composers of the classical era: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. For a long time he was one of the few composers of his generation whose music was known and performed. Today the programme which Preethi de Silva plays on this disc is more common than at the time it was first released. Even so, Johann Georg Müthel is still a somewhat unknown quantity.
This year the birth of Emanuel in 1714 will be commemorated and that must have been the reason that this recording from 1984 was reissued, with an additional piece recorded in 2010. This can only be welcomed, although these two compositions are among his best-known. Together with the two works by Müthel they give a nice insight into the stylistic characteristics of the time between the baroque and the classical eras.
From Bach's writings we know that he emphasized the importance of emotion. The liner-notes in the booklet begin with a famous quotation from his book, Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments: "Play from the soul, not like a trained bird". Elsewhere he states that a performer must experience the emotions which are expressed in a piece in order to perform it in a convincing manner. The English writer Charles Burney met him in his old age in Hamburg, and when he asked the master to play, Bach went to his clavichord to play one of his own pieces, and soon tears were rolling down his cheeks. His compositions written for others or printed for common use - especially of amateurs - were obviously less personal and more restrained. Even so, many of them reflect the features of his style. One of these is unpredictability: almost every piece includes unexpected turns, such as shifts in metre or tempo, sudden pauses or dynamic contrasts.
Bach himself rated the last of the six Württemberg Sonatas among his most important works as he referred to it in his treatise mentioned above. In the first movement the contrast in dynamics is especially notable, achieved here through the juxtaposition of full chords with passages for one or two voices. In the second movement the use of rests and the repetition of a motif at an ever higher pitch are among the main features. The last movement is dominated by counterpoint and refers to the baroque style. The Variations on Folies d'Espagne offer fewer opportunities for expression, but all the more for display of technical brilliance.
In comparison the two sets of variations by Müthel are full of expression. This is due to the fact that they are based on ariosi which he had written himself rather than on a pre-existing bass pattern as Bach's Folies d'Espagne.
Müthel is still rather neglected. He was born near Hamburg, the son of an organist. He learned to play the keyboard, the violin and the flute. In 1747 he entered the service of Duke Christian Ludwig of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Three years later he was allowed to go to Leipzig to study with Bach, but the latter died only three months after his arrival. Müthel travelled across Germany and met several of the main composers of his time, including Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in Berlin. In 1753 he settled in Riga which was then a cosmopolitan city with a rich cultural life. He became Kapellmeister to Baron Otto Hermann von Vietinghoff, the Russian privy councillor, who had a chapel of 24 musicians. Müthel also acted as organist of Riga's principal church. Müthel seems to have been a rather odd character who became increasingly eccentric as he grew older. His output is very small, but substantial. His complete orchestral and chamber music was recorded by the German ensemble Musica Alta Ripa (MDG, 1992).
The main recording of his keyboard music is the twofer with his III Sonates et II Ariosi avec 12 Variations by the Dutch keyboard player Menno van Delft (Teknon, 2004). The edition dates from 1756 and Van Delft believes that these pieces are specifically intended for the clavichord. Preethi de Silva plays the two Ariosi but apparently she doesn't play all the repeats as the timings indicate: 12:57 vs 22:41 and 14:42 vs 25:40 respectively.
Ms de Silva opted for the fortepiano. The choice of instruments is one of the most sensitive and problematic issues in performances of repertoire from this period. Harpsichord and fortepiano co-existed for many decades, and other instruments were also in vogue, such as the clavichord and the tangent piano. Which to choose for the best interpretation of the music by Bach and Müthel? The titlepages are mostly not very helpful: they usually give several options or use the word clavier which basically means any sort of stringed keyboard instrument. The stylistic features, the time of publication and the kind of people for whom the music was written are the factors that need to be considered. Stylistically the harpsichord seems the least likely choice. In his liner-notes Menno van Delft chose the clavichord and states that "Müthel's palette of effects - from contrasting drama to cheerful melancholy and gallant Empfindsamkeit - flourishes on this very softest of keyboard instruments most of all". For this music a 'touch sensitive' instrument is needed. Other options could be the tangent piano and the fortepiano. If the latter is chosen as is the case here, it is important to select the right instrument. A copy of a Johann Jakob Könnicke of 1796 rather misses the mark. It produces a big sound, and in particular the forte passages are overly loud. The sensitive style dictates a different instrument, and if it has to be a fortepiano a Silbermann would have been much better.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach is played on the harpsichord. Preethi de Silva uses a copy of a Ruckers (1646) as enlarged by Taskin (1780) for the sixth Württemberg Sonata. I'm not so happy with it, as the sound is quite sharp and even aggressive. That is also due to the miking which is a bit too close for comfort. One would be well advised to turn down the volume. In comparison the copy of a Gräbner of around 1740 which is used for the Folies d'Espagne is a much better choice.
Setting aside the issue of the choice of instruments, I have enjoyed Ms De Silva’s way with this music. The many twists and turns in Bach's sonata are well realised, and the brilliance of his variations is amply demonstrated. I especially liked the way some notes are held - just sufficient to create a large upwelling of tension. Also important is the treatment of tempo - it is an essential feature in Bach's works and the contrasts in tempo are largely responsible for their dramatic character.
All in all, this disc gives a good impression of what was typical of the keyboard repertoire in the time between the baroque era and the classical period.

Johan van Veen