This is the third CD released by Naxos dedicated solely to the
music of Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, often known as "Bückeburg
Bach", after the German town in Lower Saxony where he spent
most of his life. The previous two releases were of choral works,
so this is a first taster from Naxos of the instrumental music.
This may well be the first recording of these symphonies since
the Cologne Chamber Orchestra's under Helmut Müller-Brühl on
Koch-Schwann in 1993, although the E flat symphony is available
on a Capriccio disc also distributed by Naxos (C10283).
Only eight of J.C.F. Bach's twenty known symphonies have survived
World War destruction. The earliest dates back to about 1765,
the latest to 1794. The Symphony in C major, W. I/6 probably
dates from 1770, according to surviving autograph parts. It
is a warm, sunny, almost Italianate work, reminiscent of Luigi
Boccherini, with one of the funniest surprises in its third
movement in all 18th century music - virtually guaranteed to
put a smile on the face of even the most inured of listeners.
The Symphony in E flat major, W. I/10 comes from around
the same time and is also in three movements. It is once again
a lively, positive piece, perhaps with a little more cloud cover
in the first movement than the C major, and again reminiscent
Though the Symphony in B flat major, W. I/20 is commonly
referred to as Bach's symphony "no.20" (after the
catalogue number), none of those between this and the E flat
"no.10" above have survived. Moreover, the B flat
was written more than twenty years after the first two, and
the developments and innovations in the symphony brought about
by Joseph Haydn, and later Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, are evident
in a number of ways - there are now four movements, the length
has doubled, the orchestra has increased in size, there is a
greater role for the wind instruments.
The style is also quite different - symphony proper now, rather
than old-style sinfonia. Though still clearly of its time -
in fact, before its time would be more accurate, given
what Haydn and Mozart were writing – J.C.F. was more expert
craftsman than iconoclastic artist - this is altogether a much
more imaginative and adventurous work; appropriately enough,
as this was to be Bach's last symphony.
The chamber orchestra play immaculately throughout. Schuldt-Jensen
had already been conducting this group for eight years by the
time of this recording, and their close understanding of each
other makes for hugely disciplined performances. The recording
is good, although the microphones do sound almost too close,
and occasionally pick up intakes of breath. The CD is rather
on the short side - it would surely have made more sense to
make this a set of four symphonies, leaving a final set of four
for some future date.
In sum, this is not indispensable music, but it is attractive
and graceful, and gives a worthwhile look at the talents of
one of the sons of one of the greatest of musical geniuses.