- Sonata for viola da gamba & keyboard in D major (Amalien Bibliothek 585, attributed)
The designation "trios" on the cover of this French release may be puzzling to average listeners, inasmuch as only two players are listed, and only one of the works actually involves a trio. The flexibility of instrumentation during this period is a subject under debate, and it is possible that musicians of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's time might have arranged multiple, single-line parts for a single keyboard, as the players do here. That produces a rather odd texture in which the keyboard, usually in an accompanimental role in a trio sonata, emerges as a melody instrument. This said, there are some intriguing works here, none more so than the final "Sonata in C minor," titled "Gespräch zwischen einem Sanguineus und Melancholicus, Wq. 161/1." The title means "Conversation Between a Hopeful Person and a Melancholic One," and the structure of the opening movement reflects that quite ingeniously. The other two composers represented, Johann Gottlieb Graun and (probably) Ludwig Christian Hesse, who never signed his works, are quite obscure, but the virtuoso Graun piece, especially, is worth a look for cellists as well as gambists. The viola da gamba was on its way out by this time, and it doesn't fit with the aesthetic of so-called Empfindsamkeit under which these works can be classed. But somehow the sheer oddness of it all, in the midst of an era of balance and elegance, holds the listener's attention. Beyond the works of the imperfectly understood C.P.E. Bach, the music of the mighty Berlin court of the middle 18th century is almost terra incognita for performers. This release offers at least a way into a fascinating repertory.