The lack of sustained attention on the part of performers to the music of Johann Christian Bach, the so-called "London Bach," is puzzling, for it was his music that the awe-inspiring mind of the young Mozart encountered first. Indeed, Mozart arranged several of the sonatas of Bach's Op. 5 set of keyboard sonatas, including two works included on this album, as piano concertos in 1772. Putting together a group of J.C. Bach's sonatas, as Brazilian-French harpsichordist Nicolau de Figueiredo does here, helps clarify what Mozart heard in Bach's music, as well as what he rejected. You don't have to look far to hear music that sounds a great deal like passages in Mozart's early keyboard sonatas. The quasi-symphonic first movement of the Sonata in D major, Op. 5/2, for example, seems to have been emulated by Mozart in the Piano Sonata in D major, K. 284, and Bach's diverse textures make his sonata fully the equal of the Mozart work. Several of Bach's slow movements sound very Mozartian, with not only ornamentation of cantabile melodies but also a conception of the melody itself as a slower kind of ornamentation of a very simple line. The muscular virtuoso finales, which reveal a side of J.C. Bach not much heard, were of less interest to Mozart, for whom melody, harmonic plan, and their intersections were paramount. Figueiredo, who has recorded Scarlatti sonatas in the past, makes these finales sound a bit like Scarlatti, which is reasonable, and lively, full-blooded readings blow away the tinkly J.C. Bach recordings of the past. On the negative side, the two sonatas from Bach's Op. 17 set, first published in 1773 or 1774, with their long, dynamically shapeable lines, are pretty clearly piano works. True, they were issued as "harpisichord or piano" works, but this was a purely commercial consideration; annotator Marc Vignal writes that these sonatas "clearly demanded the piano," but apparently nobody told the left hand what the right hand was doing. Still, these works may have been known to Mozart, as well, and any attractive recording of this important music is welcome. Booklet notes are in English, French, and German.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Sonata Op. 17, No. 2 in C minor|
|Sonata Op. 5, No. 3 in G major|
|Sonata Op. 17, No. 6 in B flat major|
|Sonata Op. 5, No. 2 in D major|
|Sonata Op. 5, No. 5 in E major|