C.P.E. BACH: Violin Sonatas: in B-flat, Wq 77; in C min., Wq 78; in G min., H545; in B min., Wq 76 / Amandine Beyer, violinist; Edna Stern, fortepianist / Alpha Classics 329
This is a reissue of an album made by Amandine Beyer for Zig Zag Territoires in 2005. I already had the Sonata in B minor, Wq 76, on a compilation album by her and so wanted to hear the full set.
I was not disappointed. I’ve mentioned before, and will repeat again, that Beyer is one of a very small number of “straight tone” Baroque violinists who knows what she is doing in terms of phrasing, dynamics markings and coloration of her tone. If she would only add a touch of vibrato to her sustained notes (yes, I know, in the HIP world that’s heresy), she would surely be one of the greatest violinists of all time, but at least I can listen to her with pleasure because she is a creative musician and not just a mechanical robot.
Interestingly, however, I found Beyer’s and Stern’s performance of the Sonata Wq 76 not quite as spacious as the one by violinist Leila Schayegh and harpsichordist Jörg Halubek on Pan Classics 10305, and the difference is in the keyboard playing. Of course, a harpsichord just sounds so much better than a fortepiano that I automatically “hear” the music as drier and klunkier when played on the latter instrument, but the real difference is that Beyer and Stern take it at a much faster clip—the first movement only runs 7:23 as opposed to Schayegh’s 7:49. Yes, a half-minute longer does make that much difference. Yet when one listens carefully, he or she will note that it is Beyer who does so much more with the violin part than Schayegh, although Schayegh is very, very good in her own right (I certainly wouldn’t have kept her album if she wasn’t good). Do I wish that Stern would have played the harpsichord? Yes, I do, but that’s water under the bridge by this point. We have to accept what was done and deal with it on its own terms.
And the bottom line is that Beyer is absolutely hypnotic in every phrase she plays. How does she do it when scores of her rivals can’t, or won’t? I cannot say, but I know she is a genius. She knows exactly when to pull back, when to press forward, when to lighten the sound and when to darken it. Beyer’s musical instincts are so superb that it almost sounds as if she wrote the music herself. That’s how good it is.
And this is very clearly prime C.P.E. Bach. All those unexpected stops, starts, sudden shifts in tempo and occasional unexpected modulations are hallmarks of his mature style. Take, for instance, the opening movement of the Sonata Wq 78, which sounds like something his father might have written until you reach the development section, which is much more expressive, and the second movement almost sounds like something that early Beethoven would have written. Beyer brings out all the feeling and color of the music in her own unique way.
Heard in context, by which I mean after having heard all the preceding sonatas on this disc, the opening movement of the Wq 76 sonata still sounds a little glib in terms of Stern’s performance, but Beyer adds all the drama one could ask for in her performance of the violin line. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, much of this has to do with the nature of these old fortepianos, which had zero sustain ability; it almost sounds as if the accompaniment were played on a xylophone. (Yeah, I know, don’t give them any ideas.) This is a real problem in the expressive second movement, where Beyer is responsible for carrying the fortepiano on her back as she plays those long, beautiful lines that C.P.E. wrote.
All in all, a fine album and another feather in Beyer’s cap. Highly recommended for what she is able to extract from this music.
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley