If I were of a sensitive disposition I might imagine that the Locatelli Appreciation Society had followed me to Anghiari, lying in wait for tonight’s performance so that they could ambush me in the post-concert bar. The piece played tonight was much better than the thing I heard (twice) on the radio in April, but I won’t go hunting for the complete works quite yet, if that’s ok. Somebody who wasn’t me remarked that it was music by a violinist for violinists and, while the impact of the piece was certainly something to behold, I am still sceptical that it would stand up well to repeated listenings.
Not so with CPE Bach’s Symphony in D major, however, which I found simply revelatory and cannot wait to hear again. I had never heard this piece before tonight and, without doing my research, I would say it belongs to the narrow chronological window of the Sturm und Drang period, so neatly does it fit into that stylistic niche, but it really was quite something. A first movement which ends in the wrong key, for starters…
For Mozart and many beyond, the word “Bach” conjured up CPE, not JS, and it was not until Mendelssohn opened the Pandora’s Box of the Matthew Passion that Bach senior began to gain the upper hand over his son. This, in the grand scheme of things, was only right and proper, but it has meant that Bach junior, worthier of better things, has been left in the shadows just a little. In comparison to JSB we are all minnows, of course, but perhaps the timing of CPE’s life, between two periods, has worked against him. After all, Bach (JS) and Handel represent the Baroque, Haydn and Mozart the early Classical, and nobody apart from academics is really interested in that messy bit that comes between, but it would be hard to name a more important composer than Carl in that period.
We studied his keyboard sonatas at college and I have always been attracted by the way that they begin as pure Baroque pieces, close to Scarlatti, but end up as innovative Classical designs, preempting Haydn in terms of imagination and experimentation. Clearly, based on tonight’s experience, I have much more listening to do. Mozart, lest we forget, referred to him as “the father of us all”, and it is easy to take that as a quaint, slightly misguided pat-on-the-head remark about a composer who does not often figure in concert programmes, but, what do you know, Mozart was right.
There has been much truly exceptional playing at the Anghiari Festival this year, the players of Southbank Sinfonia scaling great heights in their performances of works by Barber, Shostakovich and Britten, especially, but I think that tonight’s CPE Bach Symphony will stand alongside Zelenka’s Miserere from a couple of years ago in terms of making me realise I have made serious omissions to my listening over the years. With apologies to the growing numbers of the LAS, CPE is my current TLA of choice.