We are all familiar with the disappointment when an eagerlyanticipated full-price CD turns out to be a pretentious lemon. The converse also (if more rarely) occurs: a full-price CD which one inserts into the player with limited enthusiasm, but which turns out to be most enjoyable. So here. Many of us will greet such a release by recourse to Britney Spears’ lexicon: “I am sooooooo not a clavichord expert.” And 79 minutes of clavichord is a lot of clavichord. But what threatened to be a chore proved revelatory.
While CPE Bach’s oft-recorded 1773 symphonies deserve the rebuke uttered years ago by English broadcaster Basil Lam – “the too-easy surprises of a style where anything may happen” – the present keyboard sonatas, mostly dating from the 1760s, are much more coherent works. Gone are the symphonies’ improvisatory flourishes, their stop-start approach to modulation, their general sense of attention deficit disorder. In their place is a firm, Haydn-like approach to structure, though with no shortage of inventiveness. One curiosity is the appearance of various sonatas’ slow movements in several different versions, varying according to the amount of ornamentation (which CPE himself wrote down). Clearly CPE was an inveterate reviser. Incidentally this production is Volume 26: who would have thought the old man to have had so much keyboard music in him?
The playing of Budapest-born soloist Miklós Spányi is technically superb and with a surprisingly wide dynamic range. Impressive recorded sound too, neither so discreet as to miss the clavichord’s subtler shades, nor so overpowering as to suggest a twangy monster. The booklet notes are likewise impressive (and heaven knows, we non-specialists will need the information contained therein). From these notes one gathers that CPE tolerated performances of this material on any keyboard instrument. What price dogmatic “authenticity” now?