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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750) (ed): Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach

[I] "Domestic Bach"
Bergen Barokk
rec: Dec 2012, Vaksdal Church
Lawo - LWCD1073 (© 2015) (62'29")
Liner-notes: E/No; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Aria in d minor (BWV 515); Bist du bei mir (BWV 508); Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier (BWV 731); Marche in D (BWV Anh 122); Menuet in G (BWV Anh 114); Menuet in G (BWV Anh 116); Musette in D (BWV Anh 126); Musicalisches Opfer (BWV 1079) (Canon a 2 per Tonos 'Ascendenteque Modulationis ascendat Gloria Regis'; Fuga canonica in epidiapente); Partita in a minor (BWV 1013) (sarabande in d minor); Polonaise in g minor (BWV Anh 125); [Polonaise] in d minor (BWV Anh 128); Rondeau in B flat (BWV Anh 183); So oft ich meine Tobackspfeife (BWV 515a); Sonata in d minor (BWV 1027) (andante); Sonata in G (after BWV 1029 & 1039); Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 645); Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz (BWV 516); Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten (BWV 691)

Mona Julsrud, soprano; Frode Thorsen, recorder; Mikko Perkola, Markku Luolajan-Mikkola, viola da gamba; Hans Knut Sveen, harpsichord

[II] "Anna Magdalena Bach - Petit Livre / Notenbüchlein"
Anne Magouët, sopranoa; Julien Chauvin, violinb; Christine Plubeau, viola da gambac; Aurélien Delage, clavichordd, organe; Olivier Baumont, harpsichordf
rec: May 2015, Angers, Prieuré-Saint Augustin
Bayard Musique - 308 450.2 (© 2015) (69'16")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Aria in G (BWV 988,1)f; Aria di Giovannini (Willst du dein Herz mir schenken) (BWV 518)acf; Bist du bei mir (GH Stölzel) (BWV 508)acef; Dir, dir, Jehova, will ich singen (BWV 299)abcef; Gedenke doch, mein Geist, zurükke (BWV 509)acf; Gib dich zufrieden und sei stille (BWV 510)ef; Gib dich zufrieden und sei stille (BWV 512)acef; Ich habe genug - Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen, rec & aria (after BWV 82)acf; Marche in D (CPE Bach) (BWV Anh 122 / H 1,1)bcf; Marche in E flat (BWV Anh 127)f; Marche in G (CPE Bach) (BWV Anh 124 / H 1,3)bcf; Menuet in c minor (BWV Anh 121)d; Menuet in d minor (BWV Anh 132)cf; Menuet in F (BWV Anh 113)f; Menuet in G (BWV Anh 114)f; Menuet in G (BWV Anh 116)bcf; Menuet in g minor (BWV Anh 115)f; Menuet in a minor (BWV Anh 120)f; Menuet in B flat (BWV Anh 118)d; Menuet fait par Mons. Böhm in Gf; Musette in D (BWV Anh 126)bcf; O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort (BWV 513)abcef; Polonaise in d minor (BWV Anh 128)d; Polonaise in g minor (BWV Anh 119)f; Polonaise in g minor (CPE Bach) (BWV Anh 123 / H 1,2)f; Polonaise in g minor (CPE Bach) (BWV Anh 125 / H 1,4)f; Polonaise & variation in F (BWV Anh 117a-b)d; Polonoise in G (JA Hasse) (BWV Anh 130)bf; Prelude in C (BWV 846,1)d; Rondeau Les Bergeries in B flat (F Couperin) (BWV Anh 183)cf; Schaffs mit mit, Gott (BWV 514)ae; So oft ich meine Tobackspfeife (BWV 515a)acf; Solo per il Cembalo in E flat (CPE Bach) (BWV Anh 129 / H 1,6)f; [Untitled] in F (BWV Anh 131)be; Warum betrübst du dich (BWV 516)ace; Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten (BWV 691)cef; Wie wohl ist mir, o Freund der Seelen (BWV 517)aef

Scores Notenbüchlein

In the 17th and 18th centuries music making was an important means of passing the time among the higher echelons of society. "The numerous handwritten notebooks from the 1600s and 1700s, which could follow a family over generations, clearly document an extraordinary mix of demanding sonatas and church music, simple spiritual songs and dances performed and taught in the homes of cultured citizens", Frode Thorsen states in the liner-notes to Bergen Barokk's disc. The best-known example of such a notebook is the Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach which comprises two manuscripts dating from 1722 and 1725 respectively.

Most pieces on the programme of Bergen Barokk have been taken from these collections. Olivier Baumont and his colleagues recorded the largest part of manuscript of 1725. Those pieces which are also known as part of other collections - the Clavier-Übung I and the French Suites - are excluded. From pieces which appear in two versions mostly only one has been included. The programme follows the order of the pieces in the Notenbüchlein and as a result most of the vocal items come in the last twenty minutes or so. Because of that there is a little lack of variety as the first half of the disc includes almost exclusively instrumental pieces, also because some vocal items are performed instrumentally.

Bergen Barokk has selected other pieces from Bach's oeuvre and adapted them for their own instruments. There is no fundamental objection to that: Bach himself adapted his music for other scorings. The disc opens with such a piece: the Sonata in G (BWV 1039) for two transverse flutes and bc - not in g minor, as the liner-notes say - also exists in a version for viola da gamba and obbligato harpsichord, catalogued as BWV 1027. It is played here in a mixture of both versions on recorder and viola da gamba. The aria Ich habe genug from Cantata BWV 82, scored for alto, oboe, strings and bc, is included in the Notenbüchlein in a scoring for solo voice and bc. However, it is not quite clear what exactly was the leading thought behind the concept of Bergen Barokk.

Frode Thorsen rightly criticises the tendency to isolate Bach from his time. "There is an almost unspoken romanticised notion among musicians, researchers and the listening public that the genius of this master's works, unlike those of his contemporaries, must be understood and respected in the context of complete and perfect compositions. To tamper with these works would somehow compromise this perfection. However, this is not the way the master himself would have seen it (...). Like some of his contemporaries, he would not be averse to re-use his own material (often called musical parody)". This leads to the argument in favour of arranging Bach's works. However, there is actually a difference between Bach and many of his contemporaries: most of his music was never published. It is therefore highly unlikely that "cultured citizens" knew the pieces recorded here, let alone included them in their personal notebooks. From a historical point of view that leaves only one approach: performing the music as it might have been performed in the Bach household. From that perspective some of the choices in regard to scoring are rather questionable.

The recorder plays a considerable part in the programme. The Notenbüchlein includes various dances which are attributed to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Most of them are played with recorder and harpsichord. Considering the relative small role of the recorder in Bach's oeuvre - he never composed a sonata for it - this seems a rather unlikely choice. Bergen Barokk plays the andante from the Sonata in d minor (BWV 527), originally conceived for organ, with recorder, treble viol and bc. The use of a treble viol is debatable: as far as I know Bach never used this instrument in his compositions, in contrast to someone like Telemann.

Baumont also decided to play some of the keyboard pieces "en concert, as it was called in France", as he puts it in his liner-notes. But his choice of a combination of violin, viola da gamba and keyboard is much more plausible. From the inventory after the death of Bach we know that he owned harpsichords, violins and a viola da gamba. It is also known that the clavichord played a considerable role in his life and that justifies its use here. On the other hand, the participation of a chamber organ is probably less plausible. Some of the 'ensemble pieces' don't come off that well, such as Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten (BWV 691) which is performed here with viola da gamba, organ and harpsichord. I am also not that happy with the Musette in D (BWV Anh 126) in which violin and viola da gamba alternate with the harpsichord from one phrase to the other.

Let us turn to the performances.

I find some of Bergen Barokk's decisions in regard to scoring rather questionable but there is not that much wrong with the performances; these are all fine artists. However, there are some issues which can't be overlooked. Really bad is the Musette in D (BWV Anh 126) which includes many glissandi. It sounds ugly, and this practice seems historically unfounded, certainly in Bach's music. Either Markku Luolajan-Mikkola or Mikko Perkola - the booklet doesn't give any details about who is involved in which piece - plays the sarabande from the Partita in a minor (BWV 1013) for transverse flute solo, here transposed to D minor. That is an interesting option: many years ago Frans Brüggen and some of his colleagues recorded Bach's flute sonatas and in addition presented various movements of this piece in other scorings, for instance with cello piccolo and with viola. However, the performance here is rather bland.

Mona Julsrud is a fine singer who is involved in Bergen Barokk's complete recording of Telemann's Harmonischer Gottesdienst (Toccata). She sings the vocal items here nicely but I noticed several errors in the text. In Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme she sings "kommt" instead of "kömmt" and in So oft ich meine Tobackspfeife "Tabakspfeife" instead of "Tobackspfeife" and "farben" instead of "färben". In the two first cases it is a contrast between original and modern German, in the latter it is simply wrong: "farben" is not a verb in German. If you are not too critical you may enjoy this disc.

Olivier Baumont and his colleagues also deliver good performances. The keyboard pieces and the ensemble pieces receive fine interpretations; there is a good balance between the various instruments in the latter and they sound as if they were conceived as pieces for a performance en concert. Anne Magouët has a nice voice and sings the vocal items very well but her diction leaves something to be desired. Often the last s or t in a word is inaudible. In the chorale Gib sich zufrieden (BWV 512) she sings "Leben" instead of "Lebens" and "vergeben" instead of "vergebens". The closing lines of the third section from the aria Schlummert ein (BWV 82) - "süßen Frieden, stille Ruh" - are not very differentiated: the element of peace and quiet hardly comes off. It is also regrettable that the aria So oft ich meine Tobackspfeife (BWV 515a) is recorded incomplete: only five of the six stanzas are performed and one of them is played on the violin.

Although these two discs cover the same musical practice of the baroque era it is not that easy to compare them, especially as the concept has been worked out in different ways. In regard to the level of singing and playing there is little to choose between them, except some disappointments from the recorder and the gamba in Bergen Barokk. It is mainly the liberties in the scoring in the latter's recording which make me prefer Olivier Baumont and his colleagues. Their disc is probably better up for repeated listening than Bergen Barokk's.

The Bayard Musique disc includes the lyrics with translations but unfortunately the original German texts are riddled with errors.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Olivier Baumont
Aurélien Delage
Bergen Barokk

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