Notes and Editorial Reviews
C. P. E. BACH
Pieter-Jan Belder (hpd, clvd)
BRILLIANT 94320 (3 CDs: 177:43)
Pieter-Jan Belder has been a prolific recording artist. His work has met with very mixed reviews in these pages, some lavishing praise and others expressing disappointment. That has likewise been my own experience; he is a hit-and-miss artist in entirely unpredictable ways, and one never knows if the
next recording is going to be a hit or a dud. Fortunately, this set is almost entirely on the mark. C. P. E. Bach’s sonatas present some particularly difficult interpretive challenges, due to his frequent insertion of trills, grace notes, and similar devices in his scores for expression of
. These significantly affect (play on words intended) the meter and phrasing in ways that, unless skillfully handled, can make the music sound disjointed. For the most part, Belder gauges and executes these skillfully; every so often he slightly elongates a pause for too long, or is not quite as fluent as ideally desirable in executing an ornament, as if his fingers are momentarily stuck, but this is the exception rather than the rule. A point with which I have more disagreement is his choice of a clavichord rather than a harpsichord for the first and fifth of the Prussian sonatas. The booklet notes offer no explanation for the choice; I personally find the harpsichord more suitable in this repertoire, and the switch back and forth between the two instruments jarring, but that is a matter of subjective taste. (Both instruments are modern reproductions of 18th century ones and have quite appealing tonal palettes.) Brilliant Classics provides him with a clean, slightly resonant acoustic, and of course its usual super-budget price.
Recordings of integral sets of either the Württemberg or Prussian sonatas are still relatively scarce—and those offering the high caliber of performance the music warrants even more so. Two harpsichordists, Bob van Asperen and Miklós Spányi, have recorded both sets of sonatas; the three-CD Asperen set on Teldec is an import not listed on ArkivMusic.com, but inexpensive copies can be found on Amazon.com; the full-price Spányi recordings on BIS are available on four separate CDs, as Volumes 1, 2, 16, and 17 in his ongoing edition of C. P. E. Bach’s complete harpsichord music. The late William Youngren (whose erudition is much missed in these pages, at least by me) highly praised Spányi’s recordings of the Prussian sonatas in 22:1 and 22:4. I regret that in this case I disagree with him completely, as Spányi’s performances are unbelievably distended and torpid, with extremely mannered agogic effects and
movements taken at
. (For instance, in the Württemberg Sonata No. 2, the respective timings for Belder and Spányi, with both players taking all the repeats, are 7:55, 4:05, and 4:23 vs. 12:12, 4:47, and 4:47.) By contrast, Asperen’s set is overall a fine one, and vastly preferable to Spányi’s, with tempi similar to those chosen by Belder (an Asperen pupil) but different agogic choices for phrasing (I tend to prefer Belder as hewing more literally to the printed page). In addition, the Musical Heritage Society once issued in the USA an Intercord LP set of the Württemberg sonatas with harpsichordist Siegfried Petrenz, which is long out of print. I have not been able to hear it, but sound clips of Petrenz on YouTube as a partner in recordings of a C. P. E. Bach Flute Sonata suggest wonderful performances crying out for a CD release.
The Prussian sonatas have enjoyed somewhat greater exposure, with integral sets by Louis Bagger (a MHS LP from 1974, long out of print), Anneke Uittenbosch (Et’Cetera), and Aline Zylberajch (Ligia) on harpsichord, and by Susan Alexander-Max (Naxos) and Ana-Marija Markovina (Geniun) on piano. Both of the piano versions can be straightaway dismissed from consideration, though not due to the choice of that instrument. Alexander-Max is wooden and dull. In 35:1 Scott Noriega positively reviewed the Genuin release, saying: “Throughout, Markovina relates this as highly personal music, adopting a rather free, even highly romantic sound in this music.” I would say instead that she is metrically challenged and distorts the music to the point that one cannot even find the beat in any measure. Youngren highly praised the Zylberajch disc in 17:6; unfortunately I have not been able to hear it, nor the Bagger LP, as both are long out of print. The Uittenbosch disc, however, is superb, with wonderful execution of all the agogic indications, and that would presently be my top choice over both Aspersen and Belder. However, for the Württemberg sonatas the choice is presently between the latter two, both of which also include the Prussian sonatas, so acquisition of Uittenbosch is a counsel of luxury for those with a special interest in this repertoire. In any case, this set is unhesitatingly recommended.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
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