Mahan Esfahani

C.P.E. Bach: Württemberg Sonatas

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The Württemberg Sonatas of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach were harpsichord pieces, composed in 1742 and 1743. As Iranian-born harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani points out in his booklet notes (which are elegant, enthusiastic, informative, personal, and altogether more appealing than almost any comparable example), this is a time thought of as part of the High Baroque, but J.S. Bach's eldest son was already definitively going his own way. Occasionally there is a nod to his father's style: the finale of the Sonata in B minor, H. 36, is essentially a two-part Invention like those of the elder Bach, and many movements begin with squarish, quasi-orchestral Baroque figures. But C.P.E. delights in demolishing these with what would become his trademark abrupt leaps, and Esfahani is wonderfully alert to the humor in these. The slow movements, with dotted figures being stretched out to chromatic extremes, are especially reminiscent of Haydn, who pointed to C.P.E. Bach as an influence in the first part of his career even though his training was primarily Italian. Another attraction is Esfahani's harpsichord, constructed by Czech builders after Berlin models from the early 18th century. From the notes one learns that "the decision to have the 4' strings plucking more toward the midpoint of the string than the other registers results in a flute-like solo 4' register and 8' and 4' combinations that have a particularly singing quality." The instrument sounds almost like a fortepiano at times, and it is capable of realizing the dynamic effects that are written into Bach's music. This is a recording that engages itself unusually deeply with issues that audiences in the 18th century would have found relevant.

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