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Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710 - 1784: "Sonatas & Trios"

Camerata Köln

rec: October 12 - 14, 2003
CPO - 777 086-2 (© 2006) (65'20")

Sonata for transverse flute and bc in e minor (F deest)a; Sonata for transverse flute and bc in F (F deest)a; Sonata for 2 transverse flutes and bc in D (F 47 / BR WFB B 13)ab; Sonata for 2 transverse flutes and bc in D (F 48 / BR WFB B 14)ab; Sonata for 2 transverse flutes and bc in a minor (fragment) (F 49 / BR WFB B 15)ab; Sonata for transverse flute, violin/2 violins and bc in B flat (F 50 / BR WFB B 16)c

Karl Kaisera, Michael Schneiderb, transverse flute; Sabine Leer, Ingeborg Scheerer, violinc; Rainer Zipperling, cello; Yasunori Imamura, lute; Sabine Bauer, harpsichord, organ

There is no doubt Wilhelm Friedemann was the favourite son of Johann Sebastian Bach. He not only paid much attention to his eldest son's musical education, he also made an effort to make sure Friedemann obtained a good position as musician. The first post was that of organist of the Sophienkirche in Dresden, which was not very prestigious. But, as Peter Wollny writes in the booklet, not that much was expected from him, and that gave him plenty of opportunity to work on his development as a composer.

It is rather difficult to position Wilhelm Friedemann in the musical landscape of his time. In some of his works he follows in his father's footsteps: his sacred cantatas are very much alike Johann Sebastian's. He also was a master of polyphony, which was most certainly the result of his father's education. But he also wrote in the language of the modern musical fashions of his day: Empfindsamkeit, Sturm und Drang and the galant style.
This is mostly explained by Wilhelm Friedemann's character, which is described as difficult and restless. Some think he found it very hard to develop a musical language of his own. But one can also look at it from a different perspective: the writing in different musical languages is exactly what his personal style was. Unpredictability and individualism are features of his musical style, and that seems to reflect his personality pretty well.

His output in chamber music is very limited. In 1992 the Ricercar Consort devoted two discs to his complete chamber music, the largest part of which consisting of pieces for two melody instruments. It also contained the four trio sonatas which appear on this disc. But Camerata Köln has recorded two pieces which have been found in the archive of the Berlin Singakademie, which was rediscovered in Kiev in 1999. As their existence wasn't known they don't appear in the Falck catalogue.

The unpredictability and individualism of Wilhelm Friedemann's compositional style are reflected in these chamber music works. The two trio sonatas F 47 and 48 were probably written at about the same time, but are different in the order of the movements. The Sonata in D (F 48) follows the traditional pattern: fast – slow – fast, whereas the Sonata in D (F 47) starts with an andante, which is followed by two fast movements – reflecting the new fashion.
Although these trios can be described as written in the galant style they both contain many elements of polyphony. Both sonatas contain a movement in which the theme of the first section is inverted note by note in its second section. The two solo sonatas follow the old order of movements, but despite some imitation between the flute and the basso continuo there is little polyphony. The unfinished Trio in a minor (F 49), on the other hand – the second movement, a siciliano, breaks off after a couple of bars -, is a three-part fugue, and could easily been written by Johann Sebastian.

The Trio for two violins and bc in B flat seems to be the latest of all works on this disc, and probably dates from around 1745. It starts with a largo which is full of expression because of its thematic material and its harmonies. It is followed by two fast movements with swinging rhythms.

Wilhelm Friedemann may have been a difficult character and never made the career one would expect considering his great talent, his very individual style makes him quite unique in the German musical landscape. His music is almost always interesting and enthralling, and the chamber works on this disc are no exception. Camerata Köln plays them exceptionally well, and the many twists and turns of Wilhelm Friedemann's music come out very clearly. The slow movements are played expressively and the faster movements are realised in a strongly gestural manner.

It's a shame the booklet contains some errors. The tracklist gives the second and third items (F 48 and 50) in the wrong order, and the numbers of the sonatas F 47 and 48 are swapped. Even so I strongly recommend this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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