"The innumerable keyboard compositions by this master all bear the imprint of his extraordinary genius. There is no other so rich in invention, so inexhaustible in new turns of phrase, so perfect in harmony." This verdict, from an 18th-century music critic, refers to a Bach, but not the one you’d normally think of. The music of Carl Philipp Emanuel, second son of the great J.S. Bach, is perhaps the crucial link between the Baroque and Classical eras. The keyboard works played on this CD demonstrate not only his genius but also his daring compositional style and unusual harmonic sense. This is innovative, pathbreaking music, and seldom played, even more so since the period-instrument movement has made pre-classical music all but taboo for pianists.
But Mikhail Pletnev is probably the ideal artist to rescue C.P.E. Bach’s music from oblivion. As in his Scarlatti recordings, Pletnev uses the modern piano’s full expressive and dynamic range to draw out the music’s invention and sheer grandeur. Many of Bach’s keyboard works are imbued with a sense of fantasy, and they’re played here with dazzling runs and ultra-flexible tempos. Elsewhere the slow movements are full of gravitas and the dance movements jump right out of the speakers. Yet for all the imagination Pletnev brings to the music, you never sense that he’s trying to impose his whim on it or make more of it than it is. The simpler works are played naturally and without affect. The piano sound is rich, and DG captures it with exceptional depth. For anyone who thought he or she knew the Bach family, this CD is essential.