HIP (Historically Informed Practice) music lovers in the intimate Nelson Music Room on Duke’s East Campus had a splendid opportunity to hear chamber music of Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach (1714-88) and a piece by Mozart. This concert celebrated the 230th anniversary of the death of the fifth child and second surviving son of J.S. and Barbara Bach. C.P.E. was the child known variously as “the Berlin Bach” and “the Hamburg Bach.” In Berlin, as a court musician to Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, later Frederick the Great, he composed many works for the flute – his patron’s instrument. In Hamburg, he succeeded his godfather, Georg Phillip Telemann, as director of music in the five principal churches of the city.

C.P.E. Bach’s compositions marked an important evolution and transition of style from Baroque to the Classical and early Romantic periods. Described as being in empfindsamer Stil (sensitive style), his expressive and turbulent music makes use of the application of rhetorical principles and drama. His music is full of invention, extreme unpredictability, and wide emotional range. He makes free use of harmonic color for its own sake along with varied structural design.

One of the university’s treasures is its huge and significant Duke University Musical Instrument Collection (DUMIC). For this concert, R. Larry Todd played a Clementi fortepiano (ca.1805-10). He was joined by flutist Roseen Giles, violinist Eric Pritchard, violist Suzanne Rousso, and cellist Stephanie Vial.

The concert opened and closed with two of three flute quartets composed during C.P.E. Bach’s last year (1788), probably for the salon of Sara Levy (1761-1854), née Itzig, the great aunt of Felix Mendelssohn, who emphasized performances of music by the Bach family. The Quartet in A minor, Wq. 93, has three movements: Andantino, Largo e sostenuto, and Allego assai. Flutist Giles was joined by violist Rousso, cellist Vial, and fortepianist Todd.

In contrast to brilliant, showy works for Frederick the Great, these late quartets are more restrained and melancholy. Bach was also innovative in featuring the viola, the many exposed passages for which Rousso played superbly. Giles played with remarkable breath control, clear articulation, and fine application of style. Vial’s rich sonority blended well with Todd’s dark-toned Clementi. The parts were unexpectedly independent in their scoring, which contributed to the sense of an intimate conversation between players as each was paired or took solo turns.

Violinist Pritchard joined Giles, Vial, and Todd for the Trio Sonata in C, Wq. 147, for flute, violin, and basso continuo. Todd said this early effort by the 17-year-old Bach has few traces of his father’s style; melody far exceeded any trace of counterpoint. Cello and keyboard are closely matched, supporting the dialog between flute and violin. Pritchard’s intonation and phrasing were superb, and his playing was a fine foil to the flute of Giles.

Next came the Flute Quartet in G, K.285a, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91), one of a series of works and part of an uncompleted commission for amateur flutist Ferdinand Dejean. Perhaps getting barely half of his fee led to the composer’s reported distaste for the flute. None of this was apparent as Giles, Pritchard, Rousso, and Vial spun the gentle, languorous melodies of the Andante or the relaxed rhythm of the Minuet.

The concluding Piano Quartet in D, Wq. 94, abounds in stylistic characteristics of the mature C.P.E. Bach. Its three movements are: Allegro, Sehr langsam und ausgehalten, and Allegro di molto. Giles, Rousso, Vial, and Todd reveled in the many abrupt pauses and unexpected couplings. Their approach was vivid and constantly engaging, making the strongest possible case for the composer.