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Ernst Wilhelm WOLF Sonatas   Paul Simmonds, Clavichord Ars Musici AM 1206-2




This is the best introduction I know to the heyday of the clavichord, which reached the peak of its development in the late eighteenth century. Musical and sociological conditions in Germany generated a flowering of idiomatic and expressive keyboard works, which depend on the particular characteristics of the clavichord and sound best on that instrument. At the turn of the nineteenth century the clavichord and its music of that period virtually disappeared, vanquished by the more robust fortepiano.

E W Wolf was one of the composers to suffer this neglect, so that nowadays my only well known composer namesake is Hugo! Ernst Wilhelm needs re-evaluation; many works are in manuscript and their identification uncertain. His many keyboard sonatas were published in groups of six, their slow movements the most expressive, the finales light and frothy. He acknowledged his debt to C P E Bach but developed an individual style, especially in melodic writing which is more lyrical than Bach's.

From more than 70 keyboard works, Paul Simmonds has chosen carefully examples from Wolf's most original sonatas dating from the 1770s, some of which require a five-octave instrument. His choice of some which are very difficult, others quite easy, demonstrates expressive possibilities on the clavichord which the new piano could not rival. Simmonds provides an object lesson on varieties of touch; detaché for added liveliness and characterfulness its proper basic manner of articulation, rather than the legato which is our more recent ideal. Wolf emerges as a splendid composer, his oeuvre well deserving exhumation and further research.

This 1995 CD is admirable from every point of view and is my favourite clavichord recording. Paul Simmonds is a virtuoso performer first, conveying zest and excitement in his skills, scrupulous scholar next. The recording quality does full justice to a fine instrument which I have heard live, the Richter/Hubert clavichord used in this recording being the same instrument played by Simmonds at his London recital in October 1999 [see review in S&H]. Do risk trying it, but remember to turn your volume control right down low to get the true sound - wait a few minutes and you will find you have new ears!


Peter Grahame Woolf

see also concert review


Peter Grahame Woolf

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