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BACH Family: "Flute Sonatas by the Bach Sons"

Barthold Kuijken, transverse flute; Ewald Demeyere, harpsichord

rec: Oct 2008, Haarlem, Doopsgezinde Kerk
Accent - ACC 24216 (© 2009) (75'56")

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788): Sonata for transverse flute and bc in f minor (Wq deest/H deest) (attr) Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782): Sonata for keyboard and transverse flute in F (H 597) (attr); Sonata for keyboard and transverse flute in D, op. 16,1 (Warb B 10); Johann Christoph Friedrich BACH (1732-1795): Sonata for keyboard and transverse flute in d minor (HW VIII/3,1); Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710-1784): Sonata for transverse flute and bc in e minor (F deest; BR WFB B 17); Sonata for transverse flute and bc in F (F deest; BR WFB B 18)

In the second half of the 18th century the transverse flute developed into one of the most popular instruments among Kenner and Liebhaber. As a result a large amount of music for the instrument was written by almost every composer. In order to meet the insatiable appetite for flute music composers of sonatas for violin often added the option of playing the solo part on the transverse flute. This popularity of the flute lasted until the end of the century: whereas in the second quarter of the 18th century most pieces were scored for flute and basso continuo, in the third quarter many sonatas were composed for a keyboard with a part for the flute as an accompanying instrument which wasn't too technically demanding. In the last quarter of the century the flute was often joined by strings as the many flute trios, quartets and quintets show.

The members of the Bach family also contributed to the growing repertoire of music for the transverse flute. Johann Sebastian's sonatas are among the most familiar; they have been recorded quite often, and so have the sonatas by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel. The Belgian flautist Barthold Kuijken also has recorded them. This new disc contains some sonatas by other members of the Bach family which he had not recorded yet. They are rather unknown, and that makes this disc an interesting and important addition to the catalogue. It also gives a nice survey of the various styles of composing in the decades around 1750.

Johann Sebastian's eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann also composed music for transverse flute: until recently two sonatas for two flutes and bc and a fragment of a third sonata, a sonata for flute, violin (or two violins) and bc and six duets for two flutes were known. This small oeuvre was considerably extended when the archive of the Berlin Singakademie was discovered in Kiev in 1999. It contained two sonatas for transverse flute and bc by Wilhelm Friedemann, in e minor and in F respectively. They have been recorded in 2003 by Camerata Köln, but it is nice to have them also in a performance by Barthold Kuijken. They are written in Bach's characteristic highly individual style which has no reminiscences to any other composer's music of his time. Both sonatas are quite virtuosic, in particular the Sonata in e minor. The expressive second movement, siciliano, is characterised by its contrasts between the upper and lower register of the flute and the frequent large leaps in the flute part. The Sonata in F shows the influence of the Empfindsamkeit, in particular in the second movement (andantino).

Apart from sonatas for flute and bc more and more sonatas were composed for keyboard with an additional instrument like the violin and the flute, which had mainly the role of accompaniment. But the role of the treble instrument could vary. In his programme notes Barthold Kuijken writes that in the sonatas of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach the right hand of the keyboard and the melody instrument are of equal value. But in the Sonata in d minor by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach the keyboard is dominant and the transverse flute follows its lead. The keyboard part is technically demanding which surely reflects the composer's own skills. Remarkable is the second movement, with the indication andante-recitativo. Passages for keyboard and flute are alternating with episodes for the keyboard in form of a recitative.

The disc ends with the Sonata in D, op. 16,1 by Johann Christian Bach. This is a typically diverting piece as so many were written in the third quarter of the 18th century. The flute part is relatively easy to play and clearly intended for amateurs. Also typical is that it has only two movements, the second of which is a rondo.

There is considerable uncertainty about the composer of the two remaining sonatas. The Sonata in F is attributed to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in several manuscripts, but one source has J.C. as the composer, whereas another says Dell Sigr. Bach. As it doesn't appear in the catalogue of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's estate - which is based on his own catalogue - it is listed as doubtful in Helm's catalogue of Bach's works. It is very likely that it has been written in the surroundings of the Berlin court where Carl Philipp Emanuel was working. The order of the movements - slow, fast, fast - points in that direction. Barthold Kuijken suggests that it could have been written by Johann Christian Bach, when he was studying with his older brother, also because it sometimes resembles pieces by Carl Philipp Emanuel. The flute often plays colla parte with the right hand of the keyboard. The keyboard part has frequent passages with drum basses, characteristic of the time around 1750.

The Sonata in f minor is remarkably because of its key. As Kuijken writes: "A flute sonata in F minor is already an oddity ... Quantz wrote that this key ought only to be played in front of experts who know how difficult it is. By way of comparison: of the 175 or so authentic sonatas by Quantz, just one is in F minor, of about 300 flute concertos none at all." In the only surviving manuscript it is attributed to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, but it doesn't appear in the estate catalogue either. An American musicologist suggests it could have been composed by Carl Wilhelm Glösch (1731/32-1809), a flute virtuoso from Berlin who may have been a pupil of Quantz. But there is no concluding evidence for this attribution either.

The music is of excellent quality and the performance of a high standard. Ewald Demeyere's playing is brilliant and invigorating. Barthold Kuijken delivers strongly rhetorical, speechlike performances, with great dynamic control. These two artists have played often together, and the mutual understanding results in immaculate ensemble. The captivating programme and the top-notch performances make this disc highly recommendable.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Barthold Kuijken
Ewald Demeyere

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