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Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710 - 1784): "Chamber Music"

Ensemble Sans Souci Berlin

rec: May 27 - 29, 2010, Berlin-Dahlem, Jesus-Christus-Kirche
NCA - 60221 (© 2010) (78'29")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Duet for two transverse flutes in e minor (F 54 / WFB B 1); Duet for two violas in G (F 61 / WFB B 8); Fantasia for keyboard in d minor (F 19 / BR WFB A 22); Fantasia for keyboard in e minor (F 21 / BR WFB A 24); Polonaise for keyboard in E (F 12,7 / WFB A 33); Polonaise for keyboard in e minor (F 12,8 / WFB A 34); Sonata for transverse flute and bc in e minor (F deest / WFB B 17); Sonata for transverse flute, violin/2 violins and bc in B flat (F 50 / WFB B 16) (2nd version); Sonata for two transverse flutes and bc in D (F 47 / WFB B 13)

Christoph Huntgeburth, Andrea Theinert, transverse flute; Irmgard Huntgeburth, violin, viola; Adam Römer, viola; Piroska Baranyay, cello; Raphael Alpermann, harpsichord

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was the first son of Johann Sebastian who aroused the interest of performers. From the oeuvre of his eldest brother Wilhelm Friedemann only some keyboard works were played. That has drastically changed as today most parts of his output receive the attention they deserve. In many ways he is the most interesting and intriguing of the Bach sons, because of his wandering between the styles of his time. It is not easy to get a grip on his musical identity.

This disc presents an interesting musical portrait which shows the various sides of Wilhelm Friedemann. The old Bach considered him the most gifted of his sons and paid much attention to his musical education. It is probably true that he was a bit spoiled, and as a result found it difficult to find his way in life. It is challenging to speculate whether his multifaced musical language is the result of an artistic decision to combine the best of what was available or a token of insecurity about his stylistic identity. Fact is that in his music he often mixes the old-fashioned counterpoint which was part of his father's education with the galant idiom which was the fashion of his time.

Wilhelm Friedemann's chamber music output is rather small. Some flute sonatas have been lost, and what remains are a couple of sonatas for two transverse flutes, some trios and nine duets - six for two flutes and three for two violas. Fortunately the rediscovery of the archive of the Berlin Singakademie in Kiev in 1999 has resulted in the addition of two flute sonatas to his work-list. One of them is the Sonata in e minor which is technically demanding and could have been composed for Pierre-Gabriel Buffardin, the brilliant flautist of the Dresden court chapel. Friedemann worked here as organist of the Sophienkirche since 1733.

The two trio sonatas have both three movements: the Sonata in D has the traditional order of fast-slow-fast, whereas the Sonata in B flat is in the more fashionable order of slow-fast-fast. In the former the two upper voices are closely connected by motifs which are frequently imitated. In particular the slow movement mixes counterpoint with the galant idiom. This sonata seems to be from Friedemann's early years, whereas the Sonata in B flat is from a later stage in his career. It is scored for either flute and violin or two violins, with basso continuo. It is played here in the first scoring, with the transverse flute playing the leading role. It opens the first movement by presenting a theme which is then taken up by the violin in varied form. The two fast movements include some dramatic moments.

Friedemann's keyboard works are not devoid of dramatic traits either. They reflect his own skills as a keyboard player. Among his best-known compositions are the 12 Polonaises. The two specimens played here are strongly different in character. The Fantasias belong to his most brilliant pieces. The Fantasia in e minor comprises contrasting sections of rising and descending scales on the one hand and recitativic passages on the other. The Fantasy in d minor is reminiscent of the North-German stylus phantasticus of the 17th-century. It takes the form of a toccata and fugue, in which improvisatory episodes are alternated by fugal passages.

The two duets are also contrasting in style. The Duet in G is for two violas, and is dominated by fugal and canonic techniques which are particularly strict in the middle movement, an expressive Lamento. The Duet in e minor for two transverse flutes has a more galant idiom and the connection between the two instruments is more like that in the trio sonatas, with imitation of motifs and passages in which the two instruments progress in parallel movement.

There are several recordings with Friedemann's chamber music on the market, and there is also no lack of discs with his keyboard music. You will find reviews of several of them on this site. If you have them you probably won't feel the need to purchase this disc, as good as the performances are. If you are not acquainted with Friedemann's music yet this disc offers an excellent opportunity to get to know him. The programme is put together in such a way that it gives a pretty good picture of his style of composing. The performances are of a high standard and put the music in the best possible light.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Sans Souci Berlin

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