J. C. BACH Keyboard Sonatas, op. 5/1–6 • Sophie Yates (hpd) • CHANDOS 762 (67:48)
Youngest son of Johann Sebastian, Johann Christian Bach (1735–1782) was 15 when his father died in 1750. His elder brother, Carl Philipp Emanuel, took the boy in, becoming his de facto guardian. As the young Johann progressed musically, however, it was he who possibly influenced Carl more than the other way round; for up until then Carl hadRead more vacillated between emulating the learned style of his famous father and advancing the newer expressive empfinsamer style. But the young Johann was enamored of the competing stil galant that would eventually lead, through him, Carl Friedrich Abel, and others, to Mozart and the full-fledged Classical period.
In searching the Fanfare Archive, it came as a bit of a surprise to me to find that the last entry for J. C. Bach’s op. 5 set of keyboard sonatas was a dozen years ago in 22:1, in a review by Brian Robins of a fortepiano version played by Harald Hoeren on cpo. But then, even more to my surprise, I found that there just aren’t that many competing recordings of these sonatas out there. In fact, the only other recent one beside this Chandos disc that is also performed on harpsichord is with Olga Martynova on a Caro Mitis SACD, which, unfortunately, I do not have in my possession for comparison purposes.
It was still early in Bach’s career when he had these sonatas published in 1766, designating them on the title page for “Piano Forte or Harpsichord,” the assumed preference being for the piano based on the given order of the instruments named. At this late date, the harpsichord was well on its way to being eclipsed by the piano, whether one called it a fortepiano or a pianoforte; and being that Bach was a young man clearly moving with the times and anxious to engage the future, it does seem slightly anachronistic to present these works on harpsichord. Still, Sophie Yates, an exclusive Chandos artist, has graced the label with several recordings on harpsichord of late Renaissance and early Baroque keyboard music by composers whose works some might say would be more appropriately realized on virginals, clavichords, and spinets. The medium, however, is not the message here; it’s Bach’s music, which comes across on this recording with great charm and elegant poise.
Formally, these early sonatas are still groping their way toward formal Classical structures. Lingering elements of binary form vie for ascendancy against ternary models, development sections are rudimentary, and the sonatas divide evenly between two- and three-movement works. Stylistically, however, Christian Bach’s sonatas are closer to the stil galant that emphasized melody over polyphony, a less chromatic, more tonic-dominant oriented harmonic vocabulary, shorter phrases of regular length, less reliance on the all-important bass line, and fewer excitable dramatic gestures. In other words, it was a reaction to the excesses of the Baroque, a reaction that led to an idealized Apollonian Classical style, which, if it ever existed at all, was very short-lived. It is not in the nature of music to dwell in peaceful calm, unaroused to ecstasy and rage by Apollo’s brother Dionysius. It didn’t take long for Bach to go from the sweet ear-whisperings of the Sonata No. 1 in B?-Major to the wild ranting of the Allegro assai in the E-Major Sonata (No. 5), and to the passionate outpouring of the Grave in the C-Minor Sonata (No. 6).
The booklet note tells us that Yates regularly plays on original instruments from the Royal College of Music Museum’s Benton Fletcher Collection at Fenton House, and also from the Russell Collection in Edinburgh and the Cobbe Collection at Hatchlands Park. The specific instrument she plays on this recording, however, is not identified. It’s not a particularly big-sounding harpsichord, though that may be Yates’s interpretive choice. The instrument has a pristine, bell-like sound that is pleasing to the ear, and it maintains its pitch throughout.
Johann Christian Bach would go on to write solo keyboard sonatas more advanced than these, not to mention a great deal of chamber music combining keyboard with various instruments. These early sonatas may not be music you will listen to often, but Yates does them justice, and makes them well worth hearing. Recommended.
Astonishing!September 14, 2014By H. Ventura (Mililani, HI)See All My Reviews"Let's face it, either you like the sound of the harpsichord or you don't. Lengthy compositions which favor the harpsichord, JS Bach in particular, can be tiring on the ears. The witty British conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham hated the harpsichord and thought it sounded like two skeletons copulating on a corrugated tin roof! This disc though, presents JS Bach's youngest son, Joahann Christian Bach(1735-1782) in a different musical time frame. JC died way too early. These absolutely delightful compositions never grow weary and stand up to repeated hearings. So what if these six sonatas don't plunge the depths or scale the heights; it wasn't meant to. This is music making in pure gallant style: graceful, sometimes witty, and very pleasing to listen to. Sophie Yates dosen't disappoint either. Her shadings and colorings are magical in every way. A treasure trove to be relished."Report Abuse
Beautiful playing!June 14, 2014By D. Munch (Southfield, MI)See All My Reviews"I like Sophie Yates' playing very much. I always look for recordings of early music performed on period instruments by performers who give insightful, historically informed performances. This is one of those recordings! I highly recommend it!"Report Abuse