Beautiful Music: CPB Bach on Flute & Harp

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The manuscript (but perhaps not in CPE’s hand) of the Flute Sonata in A.

CPE Bach’s music, long overshadowed by his father’s achievement, has been finding its way back onto concert programs. I heard Peter Wispelway give one of Emanuel Bach’s Cello Concerti with the Boston Symphony a few years back and was delighted by the charm and scale (the teeny-tiny little development section in the sonata-form first movement was clearly done tongue in cheek.)

I encountered CPE, like many student pianists, through the Solfegietto in C-minor (page 12 or so of ’59 Piano Solos You Like To Play’) courtesy of my childhood piano teacher. (She couldn’t help sniffing at it a bit, the junior Bachs, no matter how revered in their own era, have been overshadowed by JSB).

Years later, I’m no longer worried whether CPE was an epigone, or a fine composer in his own right, today I simply enjoy listening and playing his music both for the feeling of expressive improvisation, sly virtuosity, and also a very tender way with a slow movement melody. So what if the father built cathedrals in sound, while the son merely finely-wrought pieces of classical furniture? There is room for both.

To wit two examples:

A gorgeous performance by flautist Denis Bouriakov of the Solo Sonata in A Minor.

And a harp sonata of his that I found on YouTube, while looking for an acceptable performance of the Solfeggietto (couldn’t find one). This is harpist Marie-Claire Jamet recorded from an old Nonsuch LP (complete with surface noise, which I somehow find endearing). The performance is droll and lively: a beautiful, optimistic way to start your day (which in Cambridge is a perfect wash of September sun with a touch of briskness).


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