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CD reviews

Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Jacob Froberger & Jan Adam Reinken

[I] "Virtuosität und Tiefsinn - Cembalowerke des norddeutschen Barock" (Virtuosity and profundity - Harpsichord works of the North German Baroque)
Léon Berben, harpsichord
rec: May 25 - 27, 2008, Sengwarden, St. Georgskirche
edition chrismon - [ISBN 978-3-938704-94-3] (© 2009) (69'02")
Liner-notes: D
Cover & track-list
Scores Reinken

anon: Toccata in A (BWV Anh 178); Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Sonata in a minor (BWV 965); Jan Adam REINKEN (Johann Adam REINCKEN) (1643?-1722): Ballet in e minor; Partite diverse sopra l'aria 'Schweiget mir von Weiber nehmen', altrimente chiamata La Meyerin; Toccata in G

[II] "Cristoforis Clavichord"
Johannes Maria Bogner, clavichord
rec: Nov 7, 2009, Mauerbach, Kartause Mauerbach
ORF - CD 3154 (© 2012) (73'53")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Toccata in e minor (BWV 914); Partita No. 6 in e minor (BWV 830); Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667): Partita (Suite) in C (FbWV 612)

These two discs shed light on the influence which two German composers exercised on Johann Sebastian Bach. Whereas the music of Johann Jacob Froberger is quite often played these days, Jan Adam Reinken is largely neglected, and if his music is played it is mostly because of his association with Bach.

One reason is that his oeuvre is relatively small. For many years he was organist in Hamburg and one of the main representatives of the North German organ school. Organists were supposed to improvise, and it therefore is no surprise that we know very few organ works by Reinken. The same goes for other organists who worked in North Germany. The pieces which have come down to us were mostly written as pedagogical material, either by the composers themselves or by their pupils. However, it seems that Reinken wasn't very much interested in the dissemination of his compositions anyway. Only two collections of instrumental music have been printed. One of them has been lost; Hortus Musicus, published in 1688, includes the Sonata I which was arranged for harpsichord by Bach (Sonata in a minor, BWV 965).

It was especially the art of variation for which Reinken was famous. His large-scale chorale fantasia An Wasserflüssen Babylon is by far his best-known composition. It was the same chorale which Bach chose for his variations which he played in Reinken's presence when he applied for the job of organist in Hamburg. Léon Berben recorded two sets of variations for harpsichord by Reinken. The first, Partite diverse sopra l'aria Schweiget mir von Weiber nehmen, is included in a collection of harpsichord suites printed in Amsterdam around 1710. The tune was popular at the time and known as Die Mayerin. It was also used by Froberger for a partita. In his liner-notes Peter Wollny assumes that Reinken may have known Froberger's partita (the name he used for suites) as the last variations are four dances: allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. The second is a Ballet in e minor with 11 variations. It was included in the so-called Andreas Bach Buch, a collection of keyboard music which was put together by Bach's brother Johann Christoph.

This disc also comprises two toccatas. The Toccata in A was once attributed to Bach and included in the appendix of the Schmieder catalogue. Other composers have been considered as authors of this piece, but so far it has not been possible to attribute it with any amount of certainty to another composer. It has all the characteristics of the toccatas which were written by composers which belong to the North German organ school. There are clear similarities with the Toccata in G by Reinken, and one could imagine that he may also be the composer of the Toccata in A. Both comprise sections in an improvisatory style and fugues.

Johann Jacob Froberger also composed a number of toccatas. The toccata was a characteristic element of the so-called stylus phantasticus which had its origin in Italy and was embraced by German composers as Froberger but also the representatives of the North German organ school. Froberger's toccatas show the influence of his teacher Girolamo Frescobaldi. Whether they had any influence on Bach is hard to say. Bach knew and studied Froberger's compositions, but on the basis of remarks by Carl Philipp Emanuel it has been concluded that it was mainly Froberger's capriccios, fantasias and ricercares which he paid attention to. Johannes Maria Bogner focuses on the influence of Froberger on Bach, and he begins his programme with one of Bach's toccatas for harpsichord. There can be little doubt that Bach's toccatas were mostly influenced by Buxtehude. However, the latter's toccatas, for their part, could well be influenced by Froberger. One of the features of the toccatas by Buxtehude and Bach is the inclusion of fugal sections. That is also the case with the Toccata in e minor (BWV 914.

The form of the toccata returns in the Partita in e minor (BWV 530), the sixth from the Clavier-Übung I. Like Froberger Bach uses here the term of partita for a keyboard suite. The Partita No. 6 opens with a toccata; the sarabande also has the character of a toccata as it has strong improvisatory traits which overshadow the rhythm of the sarabande. Whereas it is not quite clear to what extent Froberger's toccatas influenced other German composers, including Bach, there can be little doubt that he laid the foundation for the keyboard suite. Many composers, including Reinken and Buxtehude, followed his model, and so does Bach. It is possible that his Clavier-Übung is meant as a homage to his predecessor as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, Johann Kuhnau, who also published two collections of keyboard music under this title which show the influence of Froberger's suites.

One feature of his suites which is unique for Froberger's oeuvre is the inclusion of meditation-like movements such as lamentos, tombeaus and plaintes. The Partita (Suite) in C (FbWV 612) begins with the Lamento sopra la dolorosa perdita della Real Maestà Ferdinando IV Rè de Romani. Because of its improvisatory character one could consider it as the connection between the form of the suite and that of the toccata.

Léon Berben's disc includes mostly music which is hardly known and that makes it a very important release. It not only sheds light on the influence of Reinken on Bach, but also the former's qualities as a composer in his own right. It is just a shame that so little from his pen has come down to us. It is excellent music, and Berben delivers brilliant and strongly rhetorical performances. He uses an appropriate instrument, the copy of a harpsichord by Ruckers of 1624. His concentrated and differentiated performance reveals the full qualities of Reinken's music.

Johannes Maria Bogner's performance is just as rhetorical as Berben's. Froberger's lamento receives an excellent and eloquent performance. Bogner's ornamentation in the sarabande which closes the Partita in C is especially beautiful. The courante from Bach's Partita in e minor is highly dramatic. Bogner underlines the contrasts in the music and these are emphasized by the use of a clavichord (after Bartolomeo Cristofori) which allows quite strong dynamic shading, albeit within the rather small dynamic range which is a feature of the clavichord. In order to experience the characteristics of these performances one shouldn't turn up the volume control of the audio equipment.

These two discs are very important additions to the catalogue. No lover of baroque keyboard music should miss them.

N.B. It is regrettable that Berben's disc was released by an online magazine. I searched for it on the site, but couldn't find it. It may be available from the artist himself.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Léon Berben

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