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"J.S. Bach and the Möller Manuscript"

Carole Cerasi, harpsichord
rec: July 24 - 26, 2001, East Woodhay, St Martin's Church
Metronome - MET CD 1055 (© 2002) (76'49")

Johann Sebastian BACH: Capriccio sopra il Lontananza de il Fratro dilettissimo in B flat (BWV 992); Sonata in a minor (BWV 967); Suite in A (BWV 832); Toccata in D (BWV 912a); Georg BÖHM (1661-1733): Capriccio in D; Suite in d minor; Werner FABRICIUS (1633-1679): Gigue belle in c minor; Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687): Chaconne (from Phaëton); Jan Adam REINKEN (1643-1722): Suite in G; Christian RITTER (c1645-c1725): Suite in c minor; Friedrich Wilhelm ZACHOW (1663-1712): Suite in b minor;

The knowledge of the early keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach has come to a considerable extent from a manuscript which is archived in the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. It is called the Möller manuscript, after its former owner, Johann Gottfried Möller (1774 - 1833). It contains 12 pieces by the young Bach, written in the early years of the 18th century, as well as music by some of the most famous German composers of the time like Georg Böhm, Nicolaus Bruhns, Dietrich Buxtehude, Jan Adam Reinken and Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow. In addition there are transcriptions of orchestral music by, for example, the 17th century French master Jean-Baptiste Lully.

The manuscript has been compiled by Johann Christoph Bach (1671-1721), Johann Sebastian's eldest brother, who took him in his home after their father died, and was his first keyboard teacher. It is thought, however, that Johann Sebastian had a considerable influence on the way the collection was put together. Therefore the manuscript gives insight into the kind of music which Bach was interested in and influenced his composing.
Some of the pieces in the manuscript are not known from any other source, like the short Gigue belle by Werner Fabricius. But also for some of Bach's own works the manuscript is the only source, and in some cases it is the only reliable source of pieces which are otherwise only extant in copies of much later date.

This disc brings a varied choice from the manuscript. Four early works by Bach are surrounded by mostly German keyboard music. It is understandable that Georg Böhm is present with two works, since we know that he was hugely admired by Bach. It is through Böhm that he became acquainted with the French style, here represented by a transcription of a piece by Lully. Zachow is mainly known for being the organ teacher of George Frideric Handel, but there seems not to have been any direct relationship with Bach.
And then there is Reinken whose music Bach was attracted to. At the time the Möller manuscript was put together Bach made arrangements for harpsichord (BWV 965 and 966) of two sonatas from Reinken's Hortus Musicus, a collection of sonatas for two violins, viola da gamba and bc, which dates from 1687. In 1720 he met Reinken personally during a visit in Hamburg.

Hardly anything is known about Christian Ritter, not even the exact years of his birth and death. He is thought to have been born in Halle, and lived and worked there as well as in Dresden, Stockholm and Hamburg. Today he is mainly known because of one organ work - the Sonatina in d minor - and the cantata O amantissime sponse Jesu. We should therefore be especially grateful for the fact that a harpsichord suite by Ritter is included here.
One of the oldest pieces in the collection is the Gigue belle by Werner Fabricius. He was a pupil of Selle and Scheidemann in Hamburg. He attended the university of Leipzig and acted as organist in the Nicolaikirche and director of music at the Paulinerkirche.

Carole Cerasi is playing two different harpsichords here, both copies of historical German instruments: the one by Carl Conrad Fleischer (1720), the other by Christian Zell (1728). Both are excellent instruments, although the Zell seems to me a little too heavy for music which dates from around 1700.
By and large I am very pleased with the way Carole Cerasi plays this repertoire. I especially enjoyed the slower movements, for example the allemand from Zachow's Suite in b minor, which is played in an almost improvisatory manner with a nice slight rubato. In the saraband of that suite the tension is well built up. And the 'Allemande in discessum Caroli XI Regis Speciae' (a farewell piece like Bach’s Capriccio with which this disc ends) from Ritter's Suite in c minor is very expressive.

Carole Cerasi's style of playing is quite imaginative and sometimes bold, which has a very positive effect in Fabricius' exuberant gigue. But sometimes I feel she rushes on. I would like to hear some breathing spaces now and then, for example between the phrases in the first section of Bach's Toccata in D. And I also think there is too little contrast between the sections of that piece.
The last item on this disc, the Capriccio in B flat, is another example which doesn't completely satisfy me. The third section has the marking of 'adagissimo'; it is a piece which is dominated by the 'suspiratio', a rhetorical figure used to express deep sorrow. This doesn't come through as strongly as it should.

These remarks don't diminish my enjoyment of this recording, which is very fine and which I would recommend strongly. It is a shame the booklet almost completely concentrates on Bach and doesn't give much information on the other composers and their music on this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2004)

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