Notes and Editorial Reviews
C. P. E. BACH
Keyboard Sonatas Nos. 1–6,
Preethi de Silva (hpd, fp, clvd)
CENTAUR 3279 (77:07)
This has certainly been a rich month for me to listen to the remarkable keyboard sonatas of C. P. E. Bach: first, the excellent set by Jocelyne Cuiller, then the sadly disappointing album by Miklós Spányi, and now this disc by de Silva. I could scarcely consider, before hearing it, that a Sri Lankan keyboardist could connect with the music of this composer, but
here it is and she is quite fine indeed. She does not employ the sort of rhetorical phrasing that one hears in Cuiller’s or Spányi’s playing in the First Sonata—her sense of rhythm is governed by quite regular metric divisions—but she certainly understands the way to phrase his quirky harmonic leaps and his unusual phrases and to present his music with charm and ebullience, and when one reaches the Second Sonata, played on a clavichord, the rhetorical phrasing is present.
I was particularly impressed with the rich and beautiful tone of de Silva’s fortepiano. This is not the usual mid-18th-century instrument that sounds like a cross between a clavichord and a xylophone, but a fine-sounding instrument with a remarkably piano-like tone and timbre. The liner notes indicate that it was built in 1990 but modeled after an instrument by Johan Schantz from about 1790—two years after C. P. E. died, but close enough. Here, too, one hears the quirky rhetorical phrasing that brings this music to life. Indeed, both the Second and Third sonatas in this set are, to my ears, almost in the nature of fantasias. With the Fourth Sonata, also played on fortepiano, de Silva is back to her straightforward style, the music rippling out from under her fingers like a very happy little brooklet of notes. She conveys not only the good nature of this music, but also its quirky humor: listen to how she makes the keyboard tremolos almost sound like laughter. In the next sonata, also on fortepiano, de Silva delights in the quirky pauses written into the music, again fully understanding how they are meant to sound. Only with the very last sonata on this disc (also played on fortepiano) does one feel somewhat in the world of Mozart, but not for long. By the time the second theme is introduced, we are in a different world, and in the development section C.P.E.’s strange off-kilter rhythms and unusual harmonic spikes make themselves felt and heard. De Silva has all of this under control; even her subtlest touch of rubato has you on the edge of your seat, wondering what comes next. Listen, for instance, to the abrupt key changes in the last movement of the Sixth Sonata, thrown in without modulation, or the way de Silva plays the overlaid cascades of notes here: that is quintessential C. P. E. Bach, so radically different from any other composer of his time. Small wonder he was hailed as “The Great Bach” when he died.
I cannot overstate just how fine this album is. On the front cover of the CD it says, “Six Collections of Sonatas, Free Fantasias and Rondos for Connoisseurs and Amateurs,” undoubtedly a title that Carl Philipp gave to these sets of pieces. On the back of the CD insert it says “First Collection (Leipzig 1779).” Does this portend a continuing series of C.P.E. by de Silva? Let us hope so!
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Keyboard in F major, Wq 55 no 5/H 243 by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
Preethi de Silva (Fortepiano)
Written: Berlin, Germany
Date of Recording: 08/1996
Venue: Studio Dufay, Leverett, Mass.
Length: 8 Minutes 32 Secs.
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