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Bach Family: "Family Matters"

musica novantica vienna

rec: Nov 5 - 9, 2009, Schloss Kremsegg (A)
Gramola - 98877 (© 2010) (64'31")

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788): Trio in E (Wq 162 / H 580)b; Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782): Trio in G (Warb B Inc 2)b; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Sonata in G (BWV 1038)a; Sonata in G (BWV 1039)a; Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710-1784): Sonata in D (F 47 / BR WFB B 13)a

Katharina Kröpfl, Robert Pinkl, transverse flute; Wolfgang Rieger, cello; Erich Traxler, harpsichorda, fortepianob

From the 1720s onward the transverse flute started to overshadow the recorder and soon developed into the most fashionable instrument of the 18th century. It was particularly popular among amateurs, and that explains the large amount of compositions for the flute, especially sonatas. The members of the Bach family greatly contributed to the growing repertoire. Although Johann Sebastian is often considered a rather conservative composer, he composed several pieces for one or two flutes - none for the recorder - and also gave the transverse flute major parts in orchestral and vocal music.

The Austrian ensemble musica novantica vienna recorded two popular sonatas by Johann Sebastian, together with sonatas by three of his sons. This way they show the stylistic changes in the decades around 1750. The Sonata in G (BWV 1038) was originally composed for transverse flute, violin and bc, but the second treble part is given here to the flute. The authenticity of this piece is doubtful. The bass line is by Bach, but the two upper parts probably by a pupil or by one of his sons. Mostly suggested candidate is Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, but in his liner notes Wolfgang Rieger writes Wilhelm Friedemann is the most likely composer. He doesn't give any evidence for that, though. The Sonata in G (BWV 1039) is also known in a scoring for harpsichord and viola da gamba (BWV 1027). The date of composition is not known.

Wilhelm Friedemann was a composer who apparently had difficulty to find his own way in the amalgam of styles in his time. The last movement of the Sonata in D is somewhat old-fashioned, whereas the other two movements reflect the Sturm und Drang and the Empfindsamkeit. Those two fashions are also strongly represented in the Trio in E by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The last movement is a fast and sparkling piece, which is a kind of relaxation after the pathetic adagio di molto. In comparison to the two sonatas by his elder brothers, Johann Christian's Trio in G is a typical diverting piece as he has written so many. The character of this trio makes it ideally suitable to be played by amateurs.

The four Austrian musicians give a fine performance of the Sonata in G (BWV 1038) by Bach. It is well articulated, and there is some good and rhetorically-inspired dynamic shading. The Sonata in G (BWV 1039) is also played well, but I would have liked more differentation in the way the repeated figure in the adagio e piano is played. Then Wilhelm Friedemann's Sonata in D is also given an inspired performance, with a really expressive largo. The choice of tempo is good, and the dynamics are used effectively to bring out the Affekte of this movement. I don't understand why in the first episode the cello is playing pizzicato, whereas in the repeat the cellist is bowing.

I have some problems with Carl Philipp Emanuel's Trio in E. It is beautifully played, although the last movement could have been played faster. The main problem is the choice of the fortepiano which I believe is a mistake. This piece dates from 1749 and that makes the use of the fortepiano not impossible, but rather implausible. And even if the fortepiano was used at the time, it was another instrument than the kind of keyboard used here. It is an original instrument, built by Joseph Donal the Elder around 1790. As interesting as the use of an original instrument is, this instrument is too heavy for a piece from 1749. In passages where the fortepiano is playing forte it drowns out the flutes. A Silbermann would have been a far better choice. It is less of a problem in Johann Christian Bach, but even here a lighter instrument, preferably a table piano, would have been a more logical and musically satisfying choice.

It is a shame this issue casts a cloud over these otherwise enjoyable performances. Once more it shows that the choice of instruments is one of the most debatable issues of the historical performance practice.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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