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Johann Christoph Friedrich BACH (1732 - 1795): "Sonatas & Trios"

Camerata Köln

rec: January 12 - 14, 2004, Cologne, Studio Deutschlandfunk
CPO - 777 087-2 (© 2007) (66'58")

Sonata for cello and bc in G (W X,1 / BR JCFB B 2)efg; Sonata for cello and bc in A (W X,3 / BR JCFB B 1)efg; Sonata for transverse flute, viola and bc in e minor (W deest / BR JCFB B 4)aceg; Trio for keyboard, transverse flute/violin and cello in D (W VII,4 / BR JCFB B 29)aeh; Trio for keyboard, transverse flute/violin and viola in G (W VII,5 / BR JCFB B 31)bdh

Karl Kaiser, transverse flutea; Ingeborg Scheerer, violinb, violac; Andreas Gerhardus, violad; Rainer Zipperlinge, Julianne Borsodif, cello; Sabine Bauer, harpsichordg, fortepianoh

Of Johann Sebastian's sons Johann Christoph Friedrich, the second youngest, is the least-known. His music hardly appears on the programmes of ensembles and keyboard players, perhaps due to the fact that the general opinion of him as a person and a composer isn't very favourable. He is too often associated with the bourgeois mentality - in the negative sense of the word - which without any doubt was one of the features of the second half of the 18th century. The fact that for the most part of his life he worked at the court in Bückeburg - not exactly an artistic centre of international stature - hasn't helped him either. But fortunately there are musicians who don't judge him on the basis of this kind of prejudice. The bicentennial of his death in 1995 resulted in a recording of chamber music by London Baroque (Harmonia mundi), and the German conductor Hermann Max performed several of his vocal works: some secular cantatas and his oratorio Die Pilgrime auf Golgatha, which turned out to be an excellent work. It is a shame it has never appeared on disc. The German ensemble Camerata Köln always has a good sense for music that is unjustly neglected: some years ago it recorded six 'divertissements' by Sebastian Bodinus, which were of exceptional quality. The music by the Bach family has always been part of the repertoire of this ensemble, and after recording chamber music by Wilhelm Friedemann - some of which recently rediscovered - it is Johann Christoph Friedrich who is the focus of its attention.

After being educated by his father Johann Christoph Friedrich probably started studying law at Leipzig University, but never finished it. Instead he became harpsichordist at the court of Bückeburg, which was dominated by Italian musicians, among them the Concert-Meister Angelo Colonna, reflecting the Italian taste of the count, Wilhelm von Schaumburg-Lippe. In 1755 Bach married Lucia Elisabeth, daughter of the court organist Ludolf Münchhausen. She was trained as a singer and in this capacity held a position at the court. In 1759 Bach was appointed Concert-Meister - Colonna had disappeared in 1756 for unknown reasons - which brought him a considerable rise in his income. In the following years he composed a variety of works: symphonies, trio sonatas and vocal music. In the late 1760's and the 1770's he composed sacred music, including some oratorios on well-known librettos by the poet Carl Wilhelm Ramler, Der Tod Jesu and Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu. In 1771 Johann Gottfried Herder was appointed court preacher, who was also known as poet of oratorio librettos. His presence had a lasting effect on Bach, who considered these years to be the happiest of his life. He composed the cantata Michaels Sieg and the oratorios Die Kindheit Jesu and Die Auferweckung Lazarus on texts by Herder.

Things changed drastically as the countess Marie Barbara died in 1776 and Herder moved to Weimar the next year. In 1778 Bach asked for permission to visit his youngest brother Johann Christian in London. It strongly influenced his style of composing as the works he composed during his stay in London show. From London he brought back a fortepiano, which means that in his chamber music from that time on the keyboard part could be intended for the fortepiano rather than the harpsichord. In his later years he concentrated on teaching, and some of his pedagogical works were published. His attempts to print some vocal works failed because of a lack of subscribers - probably a reflection of the fast changing musical taste at the time.

This disc contains compositions from several stages in Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach's career. The eldest work is the Sonata in e minor, which probably dates from before 1760 and follows the pattern of the baroque trio sonata. The Sonata for cello and bc in A was published in 1770 by his brother Carl Philipp Emanuel. Although its scoring for a solo instrument with bc is rooted in the tradition of the baroque era, the order of movements reflects the fashion of the time, as it starts with a slow movement, which is followed by a virtuosic allegro and closes with a minuet. The Sonata in G is also scored for cello and bc, but is a much later work and belongs to the category of the divertimento, as it consists of just two fast movements, the second of which is a rondeaux.

Like this sonata the two trios which open and close the programme on this disc belong to the latest stage of Bach's career. They date from the 1780's, after his return from London, and therefore it is a logical decision to choose the fortepiano to play the keyboard parts in these trios. These parts are fully written out and both these trios point into the direction of the classical 'piano trio', for instance by its structure of three movements - fast, slow, fast - and its conclusion with a rondo. They differ from each other in that the dialogue in the Trio in D is between the keyboard and the transverse flute, with the cello just playing a supporting role - a kind of relic of the baroque basso continuo. In the Trio in G, on the other hand, violin and viola are treated on equal terms. In both trios the fortepiano takes the lead, though.

This disc shows that Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach has more to offer than one might expect on the basis of the fact that he spent his whole life in Bückeburg. From this one is tempted to conclude that he wasn't very ambitious, but it seems his life-long commitment to the Bückeburg court wasn't entirely his own choice. Twice he attempted to move elsewhere: the second time he applied for the position of Musikdirektor in Hamburg after Telemann's death. He was on the shortlist, but lost to his brother Carl Philipp Emanuel. It seems that after a while he accepted that he was to stay in Bückeburg, and he certainly made the best of it.

It is great Camerata Köln has devoted an entire disc to chamber music by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach. It is very fortunate that it contains just one piece - the Trio in G - which was also included in London Baroque's recording I referred to before. The Sonata for cello and bc in A has been recorded before as well, but even so this disc is an important and welcome addition to the catalogue. As one might expect Camerata Köln gives outstanding performances. All parts are very well played, with Sabine Bauer in particular impressive in the keyboard parts of the two Trios and Rainer Zipperling in the cello part of the Sonata in A. The fast movements are bold and sparkling, the slower movements full of expression. I strongly recommend this disc which will hopefully help to overcome the prejudices against Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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