JC Bach: 6 Sonatas Op. 17

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: 6 Sonatas Op. 17
PERFORMER: Robert Woolley (fortepiano)
Johann Christian Bach – the ‘English’ Bach – has always been overshadowed by others (his father Johann Sebastian, his older brother Carl Philipp Emanuel, and finally Mozart), with his music often regarded as somewhat facile and eager to please. The six sonatas played here by Robert Woolley, dating from the 1770s, were the second of his two sets for keyboard, and are particularly interesting as a record of his contribution to the development of the piano. As an agent for the sale of Johannes Zumpe’s English square pianos, Johann Christian had a very direct financial stake in promoting this new instrument, and the first of the sonatas seems to have been written with the amateur firmly in mind. Robert Woolley (here playing a German fortepiano) demonstrates Bach’s considerable awareness of the dynamic and idiomatic possibilities of the piano, as well as his growing sophistication in sonata form – the sonatas in C minor and B flat are particularly impressive for their striking development sections, melodic slow movements and breathtaking presto finales. Woolley’s playing is assured and fluent on an instrument that can often seem rather intractable. William Humphreys-Jones