Johann Christoph Friedrich BACH (1732-1795)
Symphony in C major, W. I/6 (c.1770) [16:54]
Symphony in E flat major, W. I/10 (c.1770-1772) [11:38]
Symphony in B flat major, W. I/20 (c.1794) [22:42]
Leipziger Kammerorchester/Morten Schuldt-Jensen
rec. Paul-Gerhardt-Kirche, Leipzig, August 2008. DDD
NAXOS 8.572217 [51:14]
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 of Boccherini.
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.
Attractive and graceful - a worthwhile look at the talents of one of the sons of one of the greatest of musical geniuses.