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Christian Gottlob Neefe is assured of a footnote in music history as Beethoven’s first teacher of repute. Born in 1748, he initially made his mark in Leipzig as a composer of comic opera; in 1779 he moved to Bonn and was appointed court organist in 1782, when the 12-year-old Beethoven, already his pupil, became his understudy.

Beethoven’s first published composition, the nine variations on a march by Ernst Christoph Dressler (also from 1782), owed much to Neefe, who had originally given Beethoven the theme to set as homework and then been so impressed by the results he arranged for their publication. The variations make an intriguing 15- minute coda to these discs and do offer a glimpse or two of the formidable originality to come.

Sadly, Neefe’s 12 sonatas of 1773, written with the clavichord’s muted delicacy in mind, are neither formidable nor very original. Susan Kagan argues that they ‘represent some important steps’ in the transition from baroque to classical style; but they seem more like a hiatus, lacking the former’s rich, polyphonic textures and the latter’s vigorous formal development.

Neefe relies chiefly on melodic line and the expressive gestures of the fashionable ‘empfindsamer Stil’ (‘sensitive style’), associated with CPE Bach; however, despite a smattering of attractive moments, the sonatas often fall back into the routine and the banal. Kagan’s performances, and the recorded sound, are faultless, but only serve to magnify the music’s limitations.

GRAHAM LOCK Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2012 - ©Rhinegold Publishing