Danny drives it home again: lightning strikes twice for the pianist and CPE Bach

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was one of the 18th century’s great musical rebels, working in a revolutionary and transitional period but destined to be overshadowed by others. History has a way of doing that to composers who don’t fit neatly into boxes. His father Johann Sebastian Bach and Mozart, geniuses both, perfectly reflect their times. Emanuel Bach may have been just as gifted, but he is neither Baroque fish nor Classical fowl and only now, it seems, are we really beginning to recognise his unique talents. Eschewing the single-emotion-per-movement model of his father’s generation, he revels in veering from one mood to another, juxtaposing introspection with temperamental outbursts and exploring divergent rhythms and quirky harmonies. Revered by Mozart, this is music that at times reaches beyond Classicism into the turbulence of Beethoven and the Romantic period. In short, CPE Bach was quite a visionary.

There are four Sonatas here, the first dating from 1744 (Emanuel’s most radical period) while the latest work, a Fantasie, dates from 1787, the year before he died. The early F-Sharp Minor Sonata begins with a highly unsettling movement, playing off an unstable rhythmic motive against an endearing gallant tune. His kaleidoscopic treatment of these two fine ideas is captivating. In contrast, however, the second movement is pure Papa Bach, elegant and refined. Then again, close your eyes and the dramatic start of the first movement of the C Minor Sonata from 1757 could be top-draw Beethoven. This well-chosen program runs the whole gamut.

Danny Driver’s first foray into CPE Bach’s keyboard output was one of the most thrilling instrumental discs of 2010 and, once again, he proves an ideal guide to this repertoire. His instrument of choice is a Steinway, unusual in itself, as recordings of this composer are generally confined to harpsichord, fortepiano or that rare hybrid, the tangent piano. The older instruments tend to emphasise the stop-start nature of this music but Driver’s sound world is a revelation, the weight and resonance of the piano immediately opening up the Beethovian dimension. Even more impressive is his sympathetic emotional response and his grasp of the complexities of this music. His impeccable technique is allied with the clarity of architectural vision crucial for making sense of this composer’s sophisticated challenges. In short, some superlative (and appealing) works, realised with consummate skill and most naturally recorded. An award-winner if ever I heard one.

Clive Paget, Limelight Magazine (Australia)
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