Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Violin Sonatas of “Bach-the-Son”

Towards the end of last July, Resonus Classics released a two-CD album containing the complete works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach scored for keyboard and violin. The performances are by the Amsterdam-based Duo Belder Kimura, whose members are keyboardist Pieter-Jan Belder and violinist Rie Kimura.

Rie Kimura and Piere-Jan Beld on the cover of their recent duo album (from

Both are playing historical instruments, and Belder alternates between harpsichord and fortepiano. Belder’s name is likely to be familiar to those who have been following this site, since I have been tracking his project to record all 297 compositions collected in The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book for Brilliant Classics, whose first release appeared in March of 2012 and is still going strong.

In this context this “Bach-the-son” project is far more modest. The two CDs account for only ten compositions, whose entries in Albert Wotquenne’s catalog are numbered from 71 to 80. (For those interested in how Wotquenne organized his catalog, these mark the beginning of the chamber music section, following the keyboard music section.) The first eight entries are sonatas, all of which have three movements, except for the first, which has four. The last two entries are a set of variations on an “Arioso” and a fantasia in F-sharp minor.

Those who have followed my writing for some time probably know that my enjoyment of Bach’s music borders on the rabid. When his 300th birthday on March 8, 2014 was being celebrated, there was a delightful abundance of both performances and recordings; and I was as happy as a pig in you-know-what. Sadly, once the festivities were forgotten, so were the delights of his music. In many respects we are now most aware of Bach’s significance because of his impact of Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Indeed, when listening to this chamber music, one encounters one of Bach’s favorite rhetorical devices. This usually takes place in a rapid-tempo movement; and it involves breaking an almost rampant flow of energy with a sustained interval of total silence. After that interruption, the energy continues merrily on its way as if nothing had happened. It is hard to imagine that Haydn was not influenced by this particular rhetorical turn, since he not only engaged it but thought up other devices in a similar vein.

From this point of view, what is important is that neither of the Duo Belder Kimura players tries to overwork Bach’s capacity for provocative rhetoric. Instead, they give it just the right account it deserves, rather than trying to force the effect on the listener. The result is that the listener is easily lulled into a sense of familiarity and is all the more aware when that sense is jolted.

During the birthday festivities, most of my time (and writing) were directed towards solo keyboard music, concertos, and Bach’s pioneering efforts towards the symphonic form that would occupy so much of the creative efforts of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Thus, unless I am mistaken, this has been my first serious encounter with Bach’s chamber music; and it did not take much to get me back into happy-pig mode!

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