More often than not, artistic anniversaries are bolted-on celebrations of people who don’t actually need them, the most spectacular recent example being last year’s overkill of Benjamin Britten which did that media-darling composer no favours at all.
But occasionally an anniversary comes along which really justifies marking, and one such is the 300th birthday of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, second son of the great Johann Sebastian, and a composer who brilliantly negotiated the crossroads between the rigours of baroque music and the heart-on-sleeve dynamism of the Sturm und Drang.
Thomas Trotter ’s lunchtime recital at Birmingham Town Hall, playing the organ which was built only less than half a century after CPE’s death, proved a persuasive advocacy of the composer, and what was remarkable was the restraint with which the organist deployed this resourceful instrument.
Even Trotter’s legendary pedalling prowess was kept in check as he unfolded Bach’s mainly manual textures (Mendelssohn’s mighty organ here could almost have been a clavichord). Instead he brought a sprightly sense of line to these offerings, well-judged contrasts of registration within his own self-imposed terms.
Three sonatas were interspersed with slighter items, of which the sweetest was the little Adagio in D minor with its crushed harmonies.
And then, as a taster for his next recital (in Symphony Hall), Trotter’s encore was Saint-Saens’ The Swan, bringing the organ’s reeds into play (no need for them in CPE Bach), and showing just how versatile this instrument is.