Bach, Cpe

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Sonatas for viola da gamba; Harpsichord Sonatas
PERFORMER: London Baroque
CPE Bach was among the last composers to write for the viola da gamba, its popularity rapidly eclipsed by the rise of the new-fangled cello. Yet Bach was no musical conservative but a forward-looking, if idiosyncratic, composer whose belief in ‘thinking singingly’ – ie, with greater emphasis on the expression of feeling – made him an important figure in the transition from the Baroque era to the early classicism of Haydn and Mozart. His three viola da gamba sonatas – two with continuo, one with harpsichord obbligato – are highly accomplished and delightful pieces. Bach conjures great expressiveness from the instrument: intricate lines are made dramatic by sudden haunting asides or unexpected thrusts of melody that bespeak a lurking gravitas. In the Larghetto of the G minor sonata this blossoms into explicit melancholia. The two harpsichord sonatas are less emotionally fraught but no less brilliant, balancing refined lyricism with darting vivacity, technical innovation with ornate formality.


Impeccably performed and recorded, this disc offers further evidence of CPE Bach’s quirky yet impressive talents. Graham Lock