Kristian Bezuidenhout: Convincing Performance that Dazzled on Many Levels

United StatesUnited States C. P. E. Bach, Mozart: Kristian Bezuidenhout (Fortepiano), Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York, 27.2.2014 (SSM)

C. P. E. Bach: Rondo in C Minor, Wq. 59, No. 4
Mozart Piano Suite in C Major, K. 399
Minuet in D Major, K. 355
Gigue, K. 574
C. P. E. Bach Sonata in E Minor, Wq. 59, No. 1
Mozart Rondo in A Minor, K. 511
Prelude and Fugue in C Major, K. 394
Piano Sonata in A Major, K. 331
Mozart: Andante Cantabile from Piano Sonata in C Major, K. 330


This was a most engaging program on multiple levels, carefully planned and  convincingly executed. It successfully showed the underestimated influence of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach on the young Mozart and, in Mozart’s Prelude and Fugue in C Major, the influence of C. P. E. Bach’s father, Johann Sebastian.

C. P. E. Bach was a prolific composer and a highly regarded intellectual who at the time overshadowed his father: during his life, he was the famous Bach. It was not until the 19th century and the rediscovery of J. S. Bach’s works that he replaced his son as the Bach of renown.

We are now seeing a re-awakening of interest in this second son of Johann Sebastian. In a project that was started in 1995, Miklós Spányi has accomplished his goal of recording all of C. P. E. Bach’s keyboard concerti by 2014, the 300th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Spanyi still has many years left to complete the recording of all of C. P. E.’s solo keyboard music; he has produced 27 discs so far. Both the Brilliant and Hanssler labels have released large boxed sets of C. P. E. Bach’s music as well.

Kristian Bezuidenhout’s short speech during the concert mentioned the tercentenary as well as the dearth of interest in this most under-appreciated composer. The choice of instrument upon which to perform his works, an issue that is still problematic, was also addressed. Bezuidenhout’s excellent-sounding fortepiano is in some ways a compromise since it is known that the delicate and low-volume clavichord was C. P. E.’s preferred instrument. Dynamically responsive to the touch, it would have been inaudible past the hall’s first few rows.

The opening Rondo was a paradigm of C. P. E.’s wrought and mannered style which belied the incipient galante style of his contemporaries. Unexpected pauses, sudden dynamic changes, harmonic suspensions and modulations to unrelated keys conspire with long runs up and down the keyboard that end suddenly in silence or a barely audible pianissimo. As if all this weren’t radical enough, C. P. E. ends the Rondo with a repetition of all but the final opening note, leaving the piece tonally unresolved. This is music that almost skips the “classical” period and goes right to the emotional heart of the romantic era.

Who knew that Mozart wrote a characteristic suite in imitation of the Baroque era’s common set of dance movements: K. 399 was a surprise to me. Only a genius like Mozart could have composed such a convincing throwback to the previous century’s popular French-influenced style. Unusually, Mozart ended this suite without the traditional gigue, but Bezuidenhout cleverly completed it by going straight into two orphaned Mozart dances, a minuet and a gigue.

Bezuidenhout continued the first half of the concert with a sonata by C. P. E. Bach followed by Mozart’s Rondo in A Minor, used here to “complete” the Bach sonata. The last movement of the Bach Sonata in E Minor ends so quietly that the quick segue into Mozart’s Rondo seemed to be a natural conclusion.

The final work on the program, Mozart’s A Major Sonata K. 331, was preceded by a J. S.  Bach-infused anachronism: the Prelude and Fugue K. 394. Bezuidenhout’s deep sensitivity, intelligence and technical skills were present here as in the earlier works.

Bezuidenhout came on stage with his shirt sleeves rolled up as if ready to tackle anything, and he did so with a rare understanding and an ability to reveal the connections between Mozart and C. P. E. Bach, the man whom Mozart himself said was the “father of all of us.”


Stan Metzger