JCF has gone down in musical history as the least talented or
least original of the great Bach’s composer-sons. He was
born before Johann Christian and is the only one “who
continued to compose into the period of the Viennese classics.
The works on this CD were all composed after the death of Mozart”,
(booklet essay by Ulrich Leisinger); rather remarkable really.
What especially struck me was that this CD consists of only three
works; in other words they are not of the length of ‘Sinfonias’ of
the mid-century but are more fully developed and extended in
the style of Mozart and Haydn and as precursors to early Beethoven.
Known as “The Bückeburg Bach”, JCF composed
at the court of Schäumberg-Lippe in that town all of his
life. The town orchestra developed into one of the very best
in Europe and JCF wrote much for it. The 1780s saw him undergoing
various personal and creative crises. However from about 1792
he bounced out of these due to the encouragement of his new boss,
as it were, the young Princess Juliane for whom, in the last
years of his life he was amazingly prolific.
Taking them in order as on the CD we begin with the Sinfonia
in G major.
One must remember that the great Haydn was writing
his London Symphonies
at this time. This four-movement
work is not unoriginal and not uninfluenced by Haydn. In fact
whilst listening I was wondering why a piece like this or any
other of the many Sinfonias JCF composed are not better known.
The booklet notes tell us that the manuscripts from the court
were moved for safe-keeping from Berlin in the war and have not
yet materialised. This work is only known through a 1920s copy.
It is in four movements with a portentous G minor introduction
which Haydn would have been proud of, followed by a lively Sonata-Allegro
in the major key. Interestingly it ends in D as it leads neatly
into the 3/4 time Romanza in rondo form. This is of equal length
to the first movement and amongst several of its charming touches
is a passage with pizzicato strings under oboes in thirds and
a section for muted strings. The Minuet and Trio exemplifies
the fact that the wind, especially the horns and oboes are as
important as the strings, pretty well. In the trio section they
have a moment in the sunlight all to themselves. The Rondo finale
is witty and energetic and again horns feature strongly; a truly
excellent piece of work.
JCF would certainly have been aware of Mozart’s piano concertos
yet his own work is entitled ‘Concerto Grosso’
back to a more baroque format and to a nomenclature more associated
with his father. There is even a figured bass part but its style
is certainly quite up-to-date for JCF’s times. Although
he stayed almost his entire life - over forty years anyway -
in one place his music and especially this piece show clear influences
from the world around him. Not the least of these links with
his late brother CPE who had died in 1788. There is also a touch
of his more Italianate younger brother JC who had died six years
before that. This is a three movement work. The quite lengthy
opening movement is reminiscent of CPE with its driving rhythms
and wide-leaping melodies especially in the strings. A little
eccentric, after the opening ritornello, is the entry of the
piano with an unrelated and dreamy andante before the movement
pursues its sonata-form progress. The second movement Siciliano
is also marked Romanza and is in the relative minor. It is quite
melancholy but has the grace and elegance of JC. It features
a delightful passage between the soloist and the oboe. The finale
is again lively and witty with some quite amusing touches. The
pianoforte is a mellow instrument which is a copy of an early
18th century Viennese one. The recording balances it beautifully
and naturally against the quite substantial orchestra. Christine
Schornsheim plays with grace and beautifully-shaped phrasing
to capture the work’s changing moods. The Freiburg orchestra
likewise accompany with much sensitivity and stylistic understanding.
According to the booklet essay the B flat Symphony á 10
JCF’s “best-known” symphony although for me
it is, marginally, the least interesting work here. When I played
it in part to my musician friend Colin down the road he proclaimed
that it must be “one of Haydn’s lesser-known London
Symphonies” although neither of us, and here I might stand
corrected, could remember any performances when the harpsichord
was used as continuo in the Master’s last works. However
it is the wonderful use of woodwind that seems so Haydnesque
and especially in the use of clarinets instead of oboes; this
time there are no horns. The minuet and trio has some particularly
delightful passages. The opening movement has a slow introduction
and the finale is a rather earnest rondo.
As a centre-fold in the booklet there is an attractive black
and white double spread of the Freiburg Barockorchestra holding
their instruments. There is a summary below - which is most welcome
- identifying the maker and date of each.
I was not expecting this music to be especially interesting.
Instead I have found delight and surprise, not so much at the
playing - I always knew that the Freiburg would offer a big commitment
to the music - but at JCF’s material which certainly catches
and holds the attention. His ideas are lively and clearly sprung
from a fresh and fecund musical imagination. This disc will add
considerably to your musical knowledge and enjoyment.