Miklós Spányi

C.P.E. Bach: The Solo Keyboard Music, Vol. 22

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Sweden's BIS label specializes mostly in single-disc-length albums with carefully chosen programs, but its series devoted to the complete keyboard music of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, featuring Hungarian historical keyboardist Miklós Spányi, is one of the exceptions. With this release the series reached its 22nd volume, and it has generally lived up to its rather tall ambitions, presenting a great deal of interesting music that has rarely or never been recorded. The Probestücke, or Sample Pieces, recorded here were published in 1753, as a supplement to Bach's "Essay on the True Manner of Playing Keyboard Instruments." They're basically teaching pieces, but C.P.E. Bach seems to have inherited something of his father's facility for producing pedagogical music that had the same high quality as the rest of his output. Spányi, in remarks included in the booklet, even wants "to propose [the set of Probestücke] as a pinnacle in the entire literature for the keyboard." One may be able to understand this startling statement even while not fully agreeing with it. Although, with one exception, the music does not represent the more extreme aspects of C.P.E. Bach's style, it's still unique among the keyboard works of the middle 18th century, and for players especially it must seem dazzling. For one thing, it's definitively intended for the clavichord; dynamic contrasts are frequently marked in the score, and there are certain other effects that are possible only on a clavichord. For another, the movement structure is extremely unusual: the 18 pieces are divided into six "sonatas," mostly in the conventional sequence of fast, slow, and fast, but the three movements in each sonata are in different but related keys. They're somewhere between a group of 18 separate pieces and a set of six sonatas. Likewise, the individual movements (again with one exception) appear conventional in shape, but actually are quite odd: they're in simple binary forms, but they display Bach's characteristically knotty lines and harmonies. The exception that breaks all the rules here is the final Fantasia of the Sonata VI (track 18), the only piece that really reflects the dramatic Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) tendency in Bach's music. It's an especially off-the-wall example. The combination of seemingly straightforward teaching pieces with Bach's arcane musical language draws the listener in over the course of the program. Strongly recommended.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Sonata No. 1, Wq 63/1 (H 70)
1 2:42
2 1:49
3 2:36
Sonata No. 2, Wq 63/2 (H 71)
4 2:56
5 2:56
6 2:35
Sonata No. 3, Wq 63/3 (H 72)
7 4:52
8 1:50
9 4:41
Sonata No. 4, Wq 63/4 (H 73)
10 4:17
11 4:23
12 3:09
Sonata No. 5, Wq 63/5 (H 74)
13 1:43
14 5:32
15 4:43
Sonata No. 6, Wq 63/6 (H 75)
16 4:16
17 5:11
18 7:33
blue highlight denotes track pick