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Kirnberger / Muthel / Rosetti / WF Bach / JC Bach / E W Wolf / Naumann

Christine Schornsheim (Harpsichord & Fortepiano) / Berliner Barock Compagney

Capriccio CAP49541

History records many composers who, misunderstood and neglected in their lifetimes, were redeemed and recognised by the elevation of posterity. other composers, such as Telemann, pre-eminent in their day, have been downgraded with time. We trust the judgment of posterity, not necessarily because we are aesthetically 'better' than were our forbears, but because each generation has a different taste, and the aggregation of many tastes brings some kind of consensus.


So why record forgotten music? The first and best reason is musicological. Context matters in all forms of art and history. An exhibition called ‘The Age of Vermeer and De Hooch' not only shows these two great artists off, it also illuminates the visual language they had to work with.


As a tutorial in 'Music evolves from Bach to Mozart' this set is an exemplary textbook. Disc 1 consists of concertos by the sons of Bach; the oldest by the eldest son, W.F. is close to a Baroque model, the other two are closer to the galant style. By disc 2, time has moved on a generation, the works are in a demonstrably classical style, but all by Bach pupils, by the third, we are in Mozart's time and all three works sound like sub-Mozart.


Next, the performer (or indeed the scholar) may find some personal connection with the works. Like visiting an out-of-the-way holiday destination, the works may be special in ways that the accepted greats cannot be. But this sense of ‘niche' engenders two further, bad reasons for the recording. One is that a first recording will always sell some discs, especially in this age of completeness and saturation of information. A good niche for the record company that issues it. The other is that playing unknown pieces both gives the performer a name and allows him to avoid the harsh light that the competing interpretation of Michelangeli, the Takacs, John Eliot Gardiner or Abbado throws on his own. This is a twofold advantage- the big names are absent and the music may be more forgiving too, in ways that Bach and Mozart are not.


When I listen to Schornsheim's set of J S Bach and his Contemporaries, I am struck by her musicality and neat playing, but even more by how inventive and original Bach and Mozart were compared to their children and contemporaries.


Some of these pieces are so dull and repetitive that they mean as little to me as, to quote an opposite example, some of the recent Turner Prize winners in visual art. Take the E W Wolf, which is probably the best work on Disc 3. Rather like the sub-Beethoven Ries concertos recently reviewed in these pages, it has snatches of lovely melody, but compared to the wealth of melodies in a Mozart concerto – far more than the conventional two subjects - and the imagination of the developments or variations, it simply uses much more restricted material with much less variety.

It is easy to lump the three discs together as a textbook, but they are examples, no more, connected just by the fact they live in the same box (the original issues were between 1998 and 2002).


Some, including MP's editor, will rejoice this repertoire is available.* And it is clear Schornsheim did not record this for the wrong reasons; she refers to the Wolf adagio as being ‘himmlische' and she hardly restricts herself to the recherché. In fact, she has recorded both the Goldbergs and the complete Haydn sonatas, repertoire in which I would far rather hear her.


Ying Chang


* He does indeed!
For more about, e.g. Müthel, see a highly recommendable double-CD: http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/cddvd08/muthelMDG.html

PGW (2008)