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James Manheim, June 2011

Mozart once remarked that one of his piano concertos would be appreciated by the connoisseurs (Kenner) but that even the amateurs (Liebhaber) would be pleased by it without knowing why. The terminology was identical to, and perhaps borrowed from, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s series of piano sonata publications (and they were explicitly for the new fortepiano) bearing the designation “für Kenner und Liebhaber.” Haydn directly acknowledged his debt to C.P.E. Bach, saying that “whoever knows me well will see that I owe Emanuel Bach a great deal,” and it is that connection that’s evident in these short two- and three-movements sonatas. Published (except for the first and third works on the program) between 1779 and 1787, they date from the later part of Bach’s career, after the long period during which he was under the sway of the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) aesthetic that extended beyond music into the other arts. Instead he, like his father, refined his style down to pure elements toward the end of his life, although there was no towering intellectual achievement like the Art of the Fugue or the Musical Offering. The fast movements of most of these sonatas consist of virtually uninterrupted passagework in the right hand, shepherded through unusual harmonic turns by the accompaniment. The economy that Haydn admired is easy to see, but the music is pure C.P.E. Bach, marked by abrupt gestures that had parallels in the literary rhetoric of the time. Aided by both a sonorous copy of a Stein fortepiano and a pleasant acoustic in a small Swiss church, Dutch fortepianist Jean Goverts offers excellent performances that capture the intense, completely non-Mozartian qualities of C.P.E. Bach’s music but do not overdo its subjectivity. A fine addition to a library of Classical-period keyboard music, covering music that’s rarely recorded or performed.

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