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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): "BWV ... or not?"

Gli Incogniti

rec: Feb 9 - 13, 2017, Rome, Pontifico Istituto de Musica Sacra (Sala Accademica)
Harmonia mundi - HMM 902322 (© 2017) (69'05")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Sebastian BACH: Musicalisches Opfer (BWV 1079) (Sonata sopr'il Soggetto Reale for transverse flute, violin and bc in c minor); Fugue for violin and bc in g minor (BWV 1026) (attr); ?Johann Sebastian BACH / ?Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788): Sonata for harpsichord and violin in d minor (BWV 1036); Sonata for transverse flute, violin in scordatura and bc in G (BWV 1038 / H 590,5); ?Johann Sebastian BACH / ?Johann Georg PISENDEL (1687-1755): Sonata for violin and bc in c minor (BWV 1024); Johann Sebastian BACH (after ?Silvius Leopold WEISS (1687-1750)): Suite for harpsichord and violin in A (BWV 1025) (fantasia; rondeau); Johann Gottlieb GOLDBERG (1727-1756): Sonata for two violins and bc in C ("BWV 1037") (DürG 13)a

Manuel Granatiero, transverse flute; Amandine Beyer, Alba Rocaa, violin; Baldomero Barciela, viola da gamba; Francesco Romano, lute; Anna Fontana, harpsichord

Johann Sebastian Bach is generally considered one of the greatest composers in history. No wonder that his life and oeuvre are the subject of extensive research. That already started in the early 19th century, when he was rediscovered. However, many questions remain unanswered and are the subject of debate. One of the issues is the authenticity of some compositions attributed to him that have therefore found their place in the catalogue of his works, known as the Bach Werke Verzeichnis (BWV). One of the best-known examples is the Toccata in d minor (BWV 565) for organ. The present disc contains a number of chamber music works which have also been included in the catalogue, but are considered of doubtful authenticity or are now generally attributed to someone else.

It is not easy to decide whether a piece is really from the pen of a particular composer, if it appears under different names in manuscripts or with no name at all. If no firm documentary evidence can be found, the only thing left to scholars is a stylistic analysis. However, that is a risky business. If a piece is stylistically different from the compositions we know, is that because it is from someone else's pen, or does it reveal an aspect of the composer's style we were not aware of? I found a quite humorous example of scholarly prejudice in the article on Bach's colleague Georg Philipp Telemann in New Grove: "In their Bach biographies Spitta and Schweitzer denigrated Telemann's church cantatas while praising works attributed to Bach that have since been shown to be by Telemann." We probably have to accept that in some cases we will never know exactly who the composer was. Obviously it does not affect the quality of a piece whether it is from Bach's pen or was written by someone else.

The disc opens with the Suite in A (BWV 1025), scored for harpsichord and violin. It has come down to us in a copy by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach of 1749, which calls it a Trio for obbligato keyboard and violin and attributes it to his father. However, the keyboard part is identical with a lute suite from a Dresden manucript, entirely devoted to music by Silvius Leopold Weiss, the famous lutenist of the Dresden court chapel. It has been assumed that Bach transcribed a lute suite by the latter and added a violin part. But that doesn't solve all the problems, because in some respects the suite is considered uncharacteristic of Weiss. Jadran Duncumb and Johannes Pramsohler, in their recording of this work, point especially to the movements which have been omitted here, as Anna Fontana and Amandine Beyer play only two of this suite's seven movements.

Next comes the Sonata in c minor (BWV 1024) for violin and basso continuo. It has been preserved in manuscript in Dresden and Wiesentheid. It has been suggested that Bach - if he is the composer - may have written it for Johann Georg Pisendel, leader of the court chapel in Dresden, but some assume that the latter may have written the sonata himself. The opening adagio has an improvisational character.

The Sonata in G (BWV 1038) for transverse flute, violin in scordatura (with the two highest strings tuned G-D instead of A-E) and basso continuo has been attributed to Bach as well as to his son Carl Philipp Emanuel. It is suggested that this may be the fruit of a kind of cooperation: Emanuel may have written the draft, and his father probably corrected it. Others have suggested that the melody parts are from the pen of one of Bach's pupils or that of Emanuel's elder brother Wilhelm Friedemann.

It is one of several pieces which are attributed to both Johann Sebastian and Carl Philipp Emanuel. Others are the Sonata in E flat (BWV 1031) for harpsichord and transverse flute and the Sonata in d minor (BWV 1036) for harpsichord and violin. The latter is included here. It is dated 1731, when Emanuel was only seventeen years of age. The fact that it is written in the galant idiom points in his direction, but is certainly not decisive. The version recorded here is said to be an early version of Emanuel's Wq 145.

It is followed by the Sonata in C by Johann Gottlieb Goldberg. It is a classical specimen of the German contrapuntal tradition, which found its zenith in the oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach. It is not surprising that this sonata was once considered a composition by Bach himself and included in the catalogue of his works. Today there seems to be little doubt that it is from Goldberg's pen. He was one of Bach's students and a quite brilliant one at that, who was especially skilled in playing the keyboard.

The Fugue in g minor (BWV 1026) is the oldest piece of chamber music from Bach's pen that has been preserved in manuscript, dating from probably before 1712. It has been preserved in a copy by Bach's cousin Johann Gottfried Walther, which suggests that it must be authentic. It is notable for its advanced violin technique.

The disc ends with what is the latest piece in the programme, the Sonata in c minor, part of the Musical Offering, the result of a visit by Bach to the Prussian king Frederick the Great. Of all the works recorded here, it is the most 'authentic', as there is no doubt whatsoever that it is written by Bach. It is probably the fact that it is based on a subject of Frederick's making that inspired the artists to include it here.

Amandine Beyer is one of the best players of the baroque violin of our time. She has several fine recordings to her name, and I rank her performances of Bach's Partitas and Sonatas for solo violin among the best available. I had therefore high hopes for the present disc and was certainly not disappointed. Her dynamic style of playing and her speechlike, rhetorical approach to Bach's music turn this disc into a very compelling recital. In her colleagues she has found equal minds. Manuel Granatiero makes his flute speak and creates some fine dynamic shading. All the pieces on this disc are available in other recordings but, even if you have them in your collection, you should consider adding this one.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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