musica Dei donum
BACH Family: "Music for recorder ensemble"
rec: August 18 - 21, 2009, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal)
Carus - 83.360 (© 2010) (56'11")
Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782):
Quartet in G, op. 19,3 (Warb B 63) ;
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750):
Die Kunst der Fuge (BWV 1080):
Fantasia and fugue in c minor (BWV 537);
Prelude and fugue in G (BWV 550):
Toccata and fugue in d minor 'Dorian' (BWV 538):
Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit (BWV 668);
Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710-1784):
Duet in e minor (F 54/ BR WFB B 1) 
 Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, 6 Duets (F54-59, BR WFB B 1-6);
 Johann Christian Bach, Four Quartettos, op. 19, 1784)
Katharina Hess, Susanne Hochscheid, Ursula Thelen, Kerstin de Witt, recorder
Recorder players always have the problem of a lack of repertoire. As so many musicians they would like to play Bach, but it is a terrible shame that he has left so little music for recorder players to perform. The only way to play Bach is by arranging works for other scorings. It seems that the problems for a recorder consort are even bigger. Not only was the recorder on its way out of music life - at least at professional level - but the whole concept of a consort of instruments of the same kind was something of the past. It would only return, in a way, with the birth of the string quartet.
But in fact it is easier for a recorder consort to find something to play in Bach's oeuvre than for a solo recorder player. Often solo sonatas, originally written for transverse flute, have to be transposed, and sonatas for violin are too idiomatic to be played on the recorder. But a recorder consort can look into Bach's music for keyboard. Because of its polyphonic character it is often well suited to be adapted for recorders. And the organ music is particularly interesting as the organ is a wind instrument, just like the recorder.
And that is why the ensemble Flautando Köln has chosen some organ works as well as some Contrapuncti from the Kunst der Fuge. Although that is mostly regarded as a composition for harpsichord, it can - and sometimes is - played at the organ. These are also the most satisfying parts of this disc. One thing which is to be highly appreciated is that Flautando Köln plays the music as if it was composed for recorders. That means that there are dynamic shades - as strongly as recorders allow - on long notes. A specific problem is the phenomenon of the pedal point: the Fantasia in c minor (BWV 537) begins with one. The bass recorder plays it as she can: she takes a breath when that is necessary. That means that the pedal point is broken up, but that is preferable to some technical trick which could never be repeated at the concert platform.
The polyphony comes off well in this recording, and the individual voices are probably even more clearly audible than in performances at the organ or at the harpsichord. That is also due to the excellent playing of the ensemble. The Fantasia and fugue in c minor (BWV 537) is getting an engaging performance. The same is the case with the toccata from the 'Dorian' Toccata and fugue in d minor (BWV 538). It is a bit odd that Christiane Hausmann in her programme notes explains the following fugue, although it is not played at this disc. The fugue from the Prelude and fugue in G (BWV 550) is particularly well suited for a recorder consort, and was previously recorded by the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet.
The members of Flautando Köln are well aware of the restrictions of their instruments, and realise that the music of the period between baroque and classicism is hard to play. "Trying to approach the music of Bach's sons presents us with a perhaps even greater challenge as the recorder was not able to find a proper place in the era of the 'empfindsamer Stil' (sensitive style). The flauto traverso, with its less direct sound and its natural dynamic possibilities, produced the ideal sound for this epoch rather than the recorder". But they feel that some pieces can be realised on recorders. That has led them to choose the two compositions by Wilhelm Friedemann and Johann Christian Bach. The Duet in e minor by Wilhelm Friedemann is one of the earliest in the set of six duets for two transverse flutes, and shows traces of the previous era. It is quite well played, and the players explore the dynamic possibilities of the recorder to the full. Still, I think that the dynamic of the recorder is quite different from the more flexible dynamic of the transverse flute and in particular the latter's stronger ability to create crescendi. And that makes this performance not really convincing, as well as it is played.
The Quartet in G, op. 19,3 by Johann Christian Bach was originally scored for two transverse flutes, viola and cello. It is a more diverting piece which doesn't reflect the sensitivity of the music of his elder brothers. Therefore the performance on recorders works better here than in Wilhelm Friedemann's duet, but the drum basses which are so typical of music from the mid-18th century are not really convincing at the bass recorder.
All that said, this is a very fine disc, particularly because of the performances of Bach's keyboard works. Flautando Köln is an excellent ensemble which produces a particularly beautiful sound. The fine dynamic shades in these pieces make them very compelling. In this scoring they get a quality of their own. The programme has been intelligently put together and one can only appreciate that the players don't try to play repertoire which isn't suitable for their instruments. The disc comes to a close with Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit which is getting a moving interpretation by Flautando Köln.
Johan van Veen (© 2010)