Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710 - 1784)
Cantatas 1
Ach, dass du den Himmel zerrissest BR-WFB F 3/Fk 93 [18:00]
Wohl dem, der den Herren fürchtet BR-WFB F 19/Fk 76 [14:25]
O Wunder, wer kann dieses fassen BR-WFB F 2 / Fk 92 [24:30]
Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen BR-WFB F 10 / Fk 75 [21:40]
Dorothee Mields (soprano); Gerhild Romberger (alto); Georg Poplutz (tenor); Klaus Mertens (bass); Bachchor Mainz
L’arpa festante/Ralf Otto
rec. 28-31 May 2010, St Kilian, Wiesbaden, Germany. DDD
CARUS 83.362 [69:01]

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was the eldest son of Johann Sebastian. Born in 1710 in Weimar, he received a thorough and broad education in Leipzig and moved to Dresden and eventually Halle, where he was both organist and director of music from 1746 to 1764. The latter position had been created in 1628 for Samuel Scheidt and was likely - by W.F. Bach's time - to have had similar requirements to those of his father at Leipzig. These included the regular composition and performance of cantatas, though probably not with quite such regularity as in Sebastian's case. One every three weeks is more likely. It's also known that Wilhelm Friedemann encountered and probably provoked analogous conflict with the city authorities.

Twenty cantatas from W.F. Bach's period at Halle survive. Carus has embarked on a series of CDs to make them available to us in celebration of the tercentenary of the composer's birth in 2010. Much of W.F. Bach's music was thought lost after the Second World War - its whereabouts was largely unknown, at least - until rediscovered in Kiev barely ten years ago. And very pleasing - and pleasingly performed by soloists and the Mainz Bach Choir with L’arpa festante under Ralf Otto - these cantatas are!

Consciously emulating the achievement of his father, W.F. Bach in his cantatas avoided the descent into formula and stereotype that had become common in the second half of the century. This is a timely and highly satisfying release, then, and one which should be bought immediately by enthusiasts and lovers of both Bachs and of sacred Baroque music.

Ach, dass du den Himmel zerrissest is a Christmas cantata dating from about 1760, a setting of a text by a theologian from Halle, Johann Jacob Rambach published 40 years before. Its opening is quite extraordinary - it could almost come from Il Trovatore! Already, it is redolent of several of J.S. Bach's own cantatas, but is its own work in terms of melodic and harmonic invention.

Wohl dem, der den Herren fürchtet consists of only three movements and was probably written in 1752 for a series of catechism sermons delivered at Halle. Using both biblical quotations and words by an unknown (local?) author, it too has some remarkably technically adept passages. Correspondingly shorter than the other three cantatas, it makes its impact both by the contrast between choral and duet movements and between concertante and polyphonic writing.

O Wunder, wer kann dieses fassen is also a Christmas cantata. As with Wohl dem, der den Herren fürchtet, other composers had previously set the text (this time by the Zerbst theologian, Johann Möhring dating from 1723) - notably Fasch. Bach does away with an opening chorus, employing a sinfonia instead for initial impact. Again, the duet is a high point. Bach's skills of counterpoint shine here too. But - as they should be - they're in the service of the text.

The text for the Ascension Day cantata, Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen is again provided by Rambach. Most likely composed during the 1750s, it does have an extended four part opening chorus that's surely worthy of W.F.'s father. It's a good cantata with which to end this CD for it shows many of the younger Bach's strongest compositional strengths: a sense of the sublime, an espousal of simplicity where most appropriate, a superb touch for instrumentation and a great sensitivity towards the text.

If the performances on this CD were perfunctory, over-zealous to make the case for W.F. Bach's cantatas, or merely serviceable, it would be an interesting and useful collection. One would still want to investigate it, given the strengths, beauty and sheer exuberance of the music. As it is, Otto's interpretations, the precision and excitement, dynamism and thoughtfulness of the instrumentalists as well as the persuasive and expressive contribution from soloists Dorothee Mields (soprano), Gerhild Romberger (alto), Georg Poplutz (tenor) and Klaus Mertens (bass) make this a CD over which you need not hesitate. The acoustic is clean and concentrates our attention on the music. The booklet contains brief but informative background and full texts in German and English. It's also useful to have emerging bibliographical data for the scores. Carus is preparing a new critical edition. A real winner.

Mark Sealey

Four of W.F. Bach's Halle cantatas given splendid world première recordings by a top team.