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Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710 - 1784): "Concerti & Trios"

Sebastian Wienand, harpsichord; Anna Katharina Schreiber, Martina Graulicha, violin; Werner Saller, violab; Ute Petersilge, cello; Frank Coppieters, violonec

rec: August 24 - 27, 2010, Stuttgart-Botnang, Liederkranzhalle
Carus - 83.357
(© 2010) (68'50")
Liner-notes: E (abridged)/D/F (abridged)
Cover & tracklist

Concerto for harpsichord, strings and bc in D (BR WFB C 9 / F 41)abc; Concerto for harpsichord, strings and bc in g minor (BR WFB Inc 17 / F deest)abc; Trio for harpsichord and violin in B (BR WFB Inc 19 / F deest); Trio for 2 violins and bc in B flat (BR WFB B 16 / F 50)b

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach is one of the most fascinating composers of the 18th century. By all accounts he was a quite wilful character - just like his father. In his liner-notes Peter Wollny refers to documents from his time confirming that his willingness to adapt to the expectations of his contemporaries was rather limited. And his music bears witness to that as it can hardly be compared with anything that was written in his time.

This disc contains two harpsichord concertos. The Concerto in g minor has been considered of doubtful authenticity. "The sole surviving source, a set of parts from the Leipzig student Johann Christoph Farlau dating from around 1770, contains the name of the composer as an addition", Peter Wollny writes. But he believes the style of this work makes it almost impossible to attribute it to any other composer than Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. It is recorded here for the first time, and I had never heard it before. I tend to think Wollny is right as I hear things which remind me of other pieces by Wilhelm Friedemann. One of the features of Bach's instrumental music is that it is mostly not in line with the fashion of melodiousness. Elements of the galant idiom are very rare in his oeuvre, and are absent here. The first movement is highly individual in its musical language and the treatment of the various instruments. In the second movement the strings time and again abruptly intervene, sometimes playing just for one bar or even a couple of notes. The last movement is a bit more 'conventional', if that is the right word to describe any of Wilhelm Friedemann's music. The Concerto in D which has been recorded before, is a little more moderate. Even so it has all the characteristics of Wilhelm Friedemann's style. The first movement includes a cadenza for the harpsichord, which in its character does remind one of the cadenza in Johann Sebastian's Fifth Brandenburg Concerto.

Both concertos bear witness to Wilhelm Friedemann's virtuosity as a keyboard player. He was the favourite son of Johann Sebastian, who took much care of the musical education of 'Friede', as he was called. He compiled the Notenbüchlein vor Wilhelm Friedemann Bach for him, and later composed the six trio sonatas for organ as study material. At an early age he was already participating as keyboard player in the performances of cantatas in the churches in Leipzig. As an adult he gave organ recitals and received much praise for his skills in this department. His instrumental music was probably played mainly in the private homes of aristocrats and the bourgeoisie in Berlin and elsewhere. This justifies a performance of these two concertos as chamber music, with one instrument per part. That doesn't exclude the possibility of performances with a larger ensemble, though. Sebastian Wiegand gives excellent performances of the solo parts. The irregularity of the keyboard parts comes off very well, and the interventions of the strings are as unexpected as they should be. In Wilhelm Friedemann's music the unpredictability has to be realised perfectly, and that is the case here.

Considering the scoring of the concertos with one instrument per part the addition of two trio sonatas is plausible. The Trio in B flat is best-known in a version for transverse flute, violin and bc. Originally it was scored for two violins, and Peter Wollny claims this to be the first recording in this scoring. That is rather odd as it was also included in a recording by Camerata Köln for which he himself also wrote the liner-notes. His description of this trio is the same in both booklets. Did he forget? Anyway, it is one of Bach's most graceful and elegant pieces, whose first movement is expressive thanks to its harmonic progression and the thematic material. The two fast movements have infectious rhythms. It gets a very fine performance here.

The Trio in B is equally well executed. It is another piece of doubtful authenticity, and here it is much harder to attribute it to Wilhelm Friedemann. Peter Wollny's argument shows exactly what is the problem: "[the] stylistic analysis does not match our image of W.F. Bach's works in all respects". Our image of a composer is based on what we know about him and his oeuvre. And when a piece turns up which is claimed to be from his pen it is probably marked as 'un-authentic' because it doesn't fit in with that image. But such a piece also could serve to correct our image of a composer which may well be incomplete or one-sided. The attribution of this trio to Wilhelm Friedemann in the only surviving source of 1780 is unambiguous, Wollny writes. That should probably be reason to accept this work as an authentic piece, at least for the time being. The fact that it is different from all we know from Wilhelm Friedemann shouldn't surprise. It is likely that a part of his oeuvre has been lost, and his whole output as we know it shows a considerable stylistic variety anyway. In his church cantatas and some of his keyboard works, for instance, he is not far away from the style of Johann Sebastian. The wandering between the various styles of his time is one of the features of his music.

This disc is another volume in a Carus series devoted to the oeuvre of Wilhelm Friedemann. So far a disc with concertos (83.304), and two discs with cantatas have appeared as well as the first volume of a recording of his keyboard works. This cannot be welcomed enough as Wilhelm Friedemann produced some of the most compelling music of the mid-18th century. Carus is also publishing a complete edition of his works. This should stimulate musicians and ensembles to perform his music on the concert platform.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Sebastian Wienand

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