Saturday, May 14, 2011

CPE Bach: Sonatas and Rondos - Christopher Hinterhuber

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Sonatas and Rondos
Christopher Hinterhuber
Naxos 8.557450

Second son of Johann Sebastian Bach, court harpsichordist to Frederick the Great and godson of Georg Philipp Telemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was destined for greatness. He began his career in law school but it was as a keyboard virtuoso and composer that the arguably most successful of the post-Sebastian generation of Bachs was to make his fame and fortune. The most broadly educated and intellectual of all of Sebastian’s children, Carl Philipp would gain great respect as a learned man, teacher and author. His Essay on the True Art of Clavier Playing was held in high esteem. His influence on the work of Franz Josef Haydn is unquestionable and blatantly obvious. Upon his death he was mourned by his colleagues as a more significant and important composer than his father.

It would be easy enough on first glance to dismiss the younger Bach as a composer of Rococo fluff, and frankly, having just now become acquainted with his music in anything other than name, I expected nothing less. My surprise and delight was enormous then when I popped this disc into the player to discover music of energetic and complex rhythmic vitality and startlingly original and adventuresome harmonic language. Bach’s preference for the newer clavichord over the more traditional plucked harpsichord is obvious from the start. This music employs a new kind of virtuosity, one that plays up its emotional and dramatic content, and is far more reliant on melody than counterpoint, which by the time of these works, was considered passé and academic.

The sonatas are as a rule cast in the fast-slow-fast three movement form that would dominate the genre until Beethoven. The outer movements are full of technical display, and yet never stray from their overall focus on melody. They are full of exciting and unexpected twists and turns, and Bach uses the entire range and scope of the instrument to express himself. Often we find long melodies beginning in the upper register, only to be completed by a two or three octave drop to the bass. The inner movements are lovely in their aria-like treatment.

The Rondos, although dismissed at their publication by some critics as needless filler and unworthy of inclusion with the more sophisticated sonatas, are brimming as well with interesting and exciting music. Brief and without wasted notes, they are little virtuoso showpieces that delight the ear.

Christopher Hinterhuber, performing here on a modern grand, is a pianist of formidable technique, able to handle fast passage-work with ease and aplomb. He plays just fast enough to give us the whirlwind spirit of the music without obliterating lines. His cantabile playing is admirable as well. I did find that, particularly in the upper registers, the playing gets a bit shrill and clanky. I would have wished for more subtlety, warmth and nuance of tone in the upper end of the piano. Nonetheless this is a small distraction, and I am thrilled that this splendidly crafted and colorful music has seen a bit more sunlight.

A definite must-own for lovers of fine keyboard music.

Kevin Sutton,, March 2006

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