C.P.E. Bach I: Pletnev Plays the Keyboard Sonatas

As promised, some favorites by the vastly underrated second (and in my opinion, most interesting) son of Johann Sebastian Bach, whose 300th birthday is being observed this year.

For me, any discussion of inspired recordings of CPE’s works starts with Russian pianist Mikhail Pletnev’s recording of C.P.E.’s Keyboard Sonatas.  This CD, along with Pletnev’s inspired reading of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas, are close to being Desert Island Discs for me. Pletnev recorded them in the mid-late ’90s, and shortly afterward stopped giving recitals and playing much in order to concentrate on conducting the Russian National Orchestra.  (Though word has it that he’s recently gone back to playing a few select gigs in London and Switzerland….)

What I like about both discs is the way that Pletnev seems to cut through the sentimentality and preciousness that seems to affect/infect a lot of performances from this era, and uncover the passion and emotion that is embedded in the music.   That, and the flashes of innovation, schizophrenia, and downright wackiness that is characteristic in music of this era, especially in the hands of CPE Bach. On the one hand, he’s championing the old man’s legacy and Baroque ideals; on the other, he’s busting out and bending and twisting these tried-and-true forms into new shapes.

Check out “Side 1 Cut 1” on the disc:

 

 

The Sonata No. 17 in G minor.    It starts out like he’s paying homage to the old man’s great Toccata and Fugue in D minor, to the extent that he even drops a big bass pedal tone (c. :46 in) that suggests a massive organ sound.   Only then it veers into silent-film soundtrack territory/goofiness…like the cops-and-robbers riff at about 1:00 in.  (Or perhaps anticipating Beethoven’s Rage Over a Lost Penny?)

 

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