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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Christopher Hinterhuber has the full measure of Carl Philipp Emanuel’s quirky keyboard style, with its sudden changes of mood and pace, and spurts of emotional intensity. The D minor Sonata opens the collection well, with its bravura outer movements and gently posed central Largo sostenuto, but it is the first movement of the F sharp minor works that is the most striking example of C.P.E.’s ‘Sturm und Drang’. The other works are full of variety and character. Hinterhuber plays a modern piano with clear, pellucid tone, modest colouring, and an attractive control of light and shade. The Naxos recording is real and vivid.

Kevin Sutton,
MusicWeb International, March 2006

"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."

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, February 2006

Charles Burney visited C.P.E. Bach in Hamburg in October 1772, publishing his account of the encounter in The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands, and United Provinces in the following year. He observed that "Hamburg is not, at present, possessed of any musical professor of great eminence, except M. Carl Philip Emanuel Bach; but he is a legion!" For Burney, although he admired Bach's "vocal and miscellaneous compositions", Bach's genius was most evident in "his productions for his own instruments, the clavichord, and piano forte, in which he stands unrivalled". Visiting Bach at his home, Burney was overjoyed when Bach "was so obliging as to sit down to his Silbermann clavichord, and favourite instrument, upon which he played three or four of his choicest and most difficult compositions, with the delicacy, precision, and spirit, for which he is so justly celebrated among his countrymen. In the pathetic and slow movements, whenever he had a long note to express, he absolutely contrived to produce, from his instrument, a cry of sorrow and complaint, such as can only be effected upon the clavichord, and perhaps by himself". The experience confirmed Burney - no bad judge - that Bach was "one of the greatest composers that ever existed, for keyed instruments".

He doesn't hold quite such a position in modern times. No doubt some of C.P.E. Bach's contemporary fame owed something to his own skills, as the passage from Burney implies. But his works for keyboard are, in themselves, fascinating and often remarkable. He was the author of the Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments (1753-62), one of the most important musical treatises of the eighteenth century. He had, in short, thought long and hard about the writing and playing of keyboard instruments, drawing on his own very extensive experience, the instruction he had received from his father and his observation and study of the playing and compositions of others. His own keyboard sonatas can, in one light, be viewed as a kind of bridge between his father, J. S. Bach and Haydn. Certainly there are places - particularly in the early works - where the influence of his father is readily apparent and there are others where, as he developed the empfindsamer Stil (the "highly-sensitive style"), one hears anticipations of the keyboard writing of Haydn (and beyond). The danger in viewing his work in this light is, however, that we don't pay sufficient attention to the music itself, rather than to where it has come from or is going to, stylistically speaking.

Sonatas and Rondos

by Bach (on DG), which exploits something like the full resources of the modern grand. Pletnev certainly stresses the 'romantic' anticipations in C.P.E.'s writing; I remember one reviewer remarking that, at times, one seemed to be listening to Liszt rather than C.P.E. Bach. There is also a fine CD by Carole Cerasi on metronome, on which six sonatas are played on the harpsichord.

On this new issue from Naxos, the young Austrian pianist Christopher Hinterhuber we have performances which might be 'located', as it were, somewhere between Spányi and Pletnev. The music is played on a modern piano, but with a sense of scale and sonority which is stylistically very sympathetic, and without the sometimes excessive flamboyance of Pletnev. I was very favourably impressed by Hinterhuber's playing on a recent Naxos disc of piano concertos by Ferdinand Ries, and that favourable impression is confirmed here. He plays this complex music, full of unexpected twists and turns, abrupt transitions of mood and direction, with attractive lucidity of thought and clarity of technique.

If you re a devotee of C.P.E. Bach's solo keyboard music, Spányi's series is the place to go. If you prefer the sound of the modern piano, and want a sampler of this music, Hinterhuber's recording will serve your purposes well.

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