C.P.E. BACH: Sonata in A, Wq. 48/6, “Prussian”: Adagio. Quartets: in A min., Wq. 93; in D min., Wq. 94; in G, Wq. 95. Sonata in A, Wq. 65/32: Andante con tenerezza / Nevermind: Anna Besson, fl; Louis Creac’h, vln; Robin Pharo, vla da gamba; Jean Rondeau, hpd / Alpha Classics 759
Nevermind is a reactionary group of young French musicians who only play music of the 17th and 18th centuries, primarily French but also a few Germans and Italians. I’ve stated before that such players are essentially incomplete artists, but to their credit they do play well and since I had never heard C.P.E. Bach’s quartets before I thought I’d give them a try.
Since there appear to be only three quartets by C.P.E. Bach, the group opens and closes this disc with individual slow movements from two sonatas. Of course the violinist uses straight tone, which robs the music of its richness in these slow movements, but the warm acoustic in which they were recorded helps to ameliorate some of the damage this causes. At least they understand the concept of legato, which not all HIP groups do, and this serves them well in these pieces. And they are livelier than the performance by David Ross, Jessica Troy, Ezra Seltzer and Jeffrey Grossman which is available on YouTube, in part because the latter group uses a viola and a cello instead of violin and viola da gamba, but also in part because this latter group is just plain stodgy. In addition, Nevermind has a good grasp of rubato, which adds interest to these works.
With that being said, all of this music seems to stem from the period when he was churning out flute scores by the double handful for the very reactionary flute-playing Freddie the Great of Prussia, years which the composer later looked back on as one of his most frustrating. It is very nice music and, of course, well crafted (all of the Bach boys knew how to write music to order), but scarcely on the level of his output during his Hamburg years. C.P.E. aficionados will know exactly what I mean.
The result, then, is a really lovely album of formulaic music written to order for a king who didn’t like anything modern or challenging. By the way, when C.P.E.’s father, the esteemed J.S., visited him in Berlin he quickly picked up the lay of the land. As a bit of revenge on the way his son was treated (Freddie generally preferred the stodgier scores of Stamitz), J.S. wrote A Musical Offering for him—not a modern work, to be sure, but just a shade beyond Freddie’s abilities as a flute player.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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