C.P.E. BACH: Württemberg Sonatas: No. 4 in B-flat Major, WQ 49/4; No. 5 in E-flat Major, WQ 49/5; No. 6 in B Minor, WQ 49/6; W.F. BACH: Keyboard Sonata in A Minor, FK NV8 – David Murray, piano – MSR Classics MS 1716 (9/30/21) 68:32 [Distr. By Albany] ****:
Recorded February-June 2020, these performances capture the still-neglected art of two of the Bach sons, C.P.E. Bach (1714-1788) and W.F. Bach (1710-1784), whose music departed from the style of their illustrious father, whom they characterized as having written in the “learned style” of polyphonic procedures. Pianist David Murray confesses to a change in musical perception after his having auditioned the Glenn Gould recording of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Württemberg Sonata No. 1 in A Minor. C.P.E. Bach cultivated the empfindsamkeit or “emotional” range of expression, often chromatic in syntax and mercurial in dynamic texture, with sudden rushes of contrasting affects.
C.P.E. Bach laid the groundwork for a burgeoning Romanticism, especially in the six sonatas dedicated to Carl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg, composed 1742-1744. Each of the sonatas, in three movements, sets a diverse palette of effects, with the emphasis on the first movement as a ground for musical exploration. The second movements tend slowness and introspective musing, monothematic, and improvisational in their chromatic wandering. The bravura in this Bach occurs in the last movement, which is fast, demanding technically, and impressive in its lasting impression as a display vehicle.
The relatively whimsical Sonata No. 4 in B-flat Major begins Un poco allegro, with a mocking march in time. Bach does employ moments of canonic imitation in a melodic line that enjoys sudden runs and stops, the “broken style” that appears in French keyboard works of the period. The second movement Andante employs overlapping entries that suggest a fugal texture. Something of the Glenn Gould penchant for staccato clarity infiltrates Murray’s style here, A humor pervades the last movement, Allegro, with starts and silences that adumbrate the wit we find in Haydn. The lively leaps between octaves adds a decisive, pungent vigor to the occasion. Murray’s right hand has its challenge in the trills that he must execute while his left and executes arpeggios in wide spans, all quite engaging to us who sit, beguiled.
The E-flat Sonata contrasts in tenor, given its highly ornamented and expansive, opening Allegro, beset with chromatic runs, trills, and leaps in extremes between octaves. The staid affect reminds one of the older French school of clavecinists. The second movement, Adagio, does in fact resort to papa Bach’s contrapuntal gambit, proceeding as a meditative reconstruction of the fugue that appears in Sonata No. 4. The last movement, Allegro assai, assumes a grander sonority, an energetic and frothy example of “orchestral” texture, with shifts in sonorous thickness and the application of accents. Murray invests this captivating moment with enthusiasm, rife with those little surprises in meter and ornamentation that require fresh hearing later on.
Murray describes the Sonata No. 6 in B Minor as an exercise in rhythm. The opening, leisurely Moderato, proceeds as a French overture, alternately staid or playful, in a galant style. This episodic drama seems to have a future relative in parts of Beethoven’s G Minor Fantasia, Op. 77. Slow periods of improvisation, mostly ostinato and staccato, break off to allow periods of ornamental runs. Marked Adagio non molto, the second movement casts forth a lovely, dreamy melody whose evolution involves chains of scales in dotted rhythm. The arioso line may owe debts to Couperin, so elegant its ornamental poise. A fiery Allegro greets us for a final movement, opening as a syncopated antiphon, and then assuming the guise of perpetual-motion study that nods to J.S. Bach for its engaging color.
The Sonata in A Minor of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, yet unpublished, makes its recording debut on the piano by virtue of Murray’s recording. The Poco allegro that begins the piece projects a Romantic hue quite unusual, set in sectionalized, imitative improvisations that point to few heirs, excepting late Beethoven. The second movement, Largo, laconic and introverted, might have a kindred spirit somewhere in Schumann, whose own chromaticism and tiny flights of fancy correspond to impulses here. The concluding Presto radiates a spontaneous energy of a perpetuum mobile, an expansive etude that nods to Scarlatti as it passes by at its own, quirky speed. As a testament to Murray’s virtuosity, the punishing wrist action and repeated notes verify a master of his trade.