Why do they torture this poor instrument that I happen to love? The music of the Bachs is beautiful and always fascinating. There are always riddles. Just as Professor Schickele said they had deduced that PDQ Bach had one leg shorter than the other from his dance pieces, CPE Bach reveals a bit of Tourette in how he blurts out his syncopations.
But since, in the excellent and informative booklet that accompanies this CD, Mr. Spanyi praises the tone and long resonance of this particular clavichord, we must come to the conclusion that the recording venue, microphone technique and editing were particularly unkind to it. Surely the ridiculous practice of mastering many clavichord recordings around -60 dB, a shade above the noise-floor, plays a role. Trying out this CD in the car, one might find it beyond the range of the volume control, then blow out the speakers and windows when the muted buzzing of bees ceases and the radio comes back on. There's such a thing as "normalization" and "standard levels" in mastering, and it's not up to the engineers (or producers) to dictate a "suggested playback volume". Yes, we know it's not a thundering instrument, all the more reason to hear it. Though Van Gogh lived in obscurity, it doesn't mean we need to view his paintings in the dark.
It's all the more tragic as the microphone placement is distant, and as a result it's not easy to say what exactly was going on in the Lumijoki Youth Association building that day. Our historical replica instrument is heard mostly struggling in the woolly ambience. The note to note string variation so common to historical clavichords is not a problem here; all strings sound equally muted. Turning up the volume ten-fold only partly solves the problems, though mercifully that's at least an option. Without question, Dolmetsch's 1933 clavichord recording are technically superior, far clearer.
I was looking forward to this CD, part of a series, and as a hard-core, and after turning up my walkman CD player literally to max and pushing the headphones like ear-muffs onto my ears, I detected some music, and raised my rating from a 2 to a 3. After one "hearing", less devoted patrons might surmise that this is really a practical joke on high-brows, with "heretofore unknown" music made up for the occasion, blandly played and mastered below audibility, but that's paranoid, and in that case they wrote some wonderful music.
The booklet provides useful historical context, and the fact that these sonatas are more obscure run-of-the-mill "utility" pieces widens the stylistic distance between CPE and his father. Given adequate amplification and some patience, this CD can be of great interest, as the clavichord is the only instrument that can even try to meaningfully render these pieces, but the playing is, I hesitate to be so blunt, just not exciting, so all in all, it's still a 3 going on a 4.