International Piano Choice

C P E Bach's first two sets of keyboard sonatas, the Prussian (1742) and the Württemberg (1744), immediately established him as one of the 18th century's most original composers and a leading exponent of the empfindsamer, Sturm und Drang, and Galant styles. Danny Driver's recital features three of the Prussian sonatas plus two others from later in the 1740s, notably the experimental G minor (H47), which was so unusual that Bach declined to publish it in his lifetime. It is the only work here that also appears on Mikhail Pletnev's C P E Bach disc, so a comparison may be helpful. Pletnev's dramatic performance pushes Bach's so-called eccentricities to the fore, so the dynamic contrasts, abrupt pauses and tempo changes are more extreme, which adds excitement but at the risk of the music becoming brusque and arbitrary. Driver, perhaps mindful that Bach favoured the clavichord, adopts a much gentler, ultimately more effective, approach: unlike Pletnev, he captures the Adagio's elusive delicacy and manages to convey the music's underlying coherence without downplaying its attractive quirkiness.

Driver proves a quietly persuasive advocate for Bach's music throughout his disc. The final Prussian sonata (H29) is another gem, with an opening Allegro of scurrying fits and starts and a stealthily catchy (it creeps up on you!) finale that shows off Bach's skill at counterpoint. The remaining sonatas are less remarkable, although the E flat major's forlorn, halting Adagio is a fine example of Bach's empfindsamer Stil (expressive style). Driver's playing is always beautifully measured and marked by an exquisitely deft precision.

Graham Lock, International Piano
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