This splendid collection of choral works by Bach's eldest son,
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, is the second in a series from the
ever-enterprising Carus featuring W.F.'s cantatas (see review
of vol. 1). While he was music director in Halle, although he
was not obliged to work to the same punishing schedule as his
father, W.F. did produce cantatas every third week and on feast
days. This would mean at least twenty a year, or a total of
almost that many times the number that survives. Bach worked
at Halle for 18 years. Since much of the composer's music has
only resurfaced recently after disappearing during World War
II, it's unclear just how many CDs the Carus series, which is
designed to mark the now concluding tercentenary this year (2010),
It's music of great quality and Carus is to be congratulated
and supported for making it available: all the items on this
CD are world première recordings. Even were they not, even were
the performances mediocre, this would still be a collection
to buy immediately – W.F. Bach's choral music is imaginative,
technically accomplished, original and beautiful.
What's a little strange is that this CD features completely
different forces from those which were on the first set (Carus
83.362). Here Jürgen Ochs conducts the Rastatter Hofkapelle,
a small ensemble whose brief is to perform the sacred music
of the former court music directors in Rastatt and the works
of other Baroque composers following historically authentic
performance practices. The original court orchestra consisted
of the director, concert master, an organist, seven singers
and 19 instrumentalists with four trumpeters and a timpanist.
Members of the current team - as in Bach's time - serve both
as soloists and ensemble players and singers.
Their playing and singing is no less polished, insightful or
compelling than that of the Mainz Bach Choir and L’arpa festante
under Ralf Otto on the first disc. The attack, perception, precision
and expressivity of their music-making is full and rounded.
It conveys the subtleties and, where appropriate, the spectacle
of Bach's writing in these cantatas from the earlier years of
his tenure at Halle - as in the short but very upbeat Heilig
ist Gott [tr.13], for instance. Temptations towards less
than satisfying performances were three: to have emulated Johann
Sebastian Bach's choral music and emphasised what his son's
had in common with it; to have presented the music in such a
way that the many differences between it and the more formulaic
efforts of his contemporaries were too evident; to have underplayed
W.F.'s achievement by feeding a need to shun comparisons with
either of these other paradigms. Instead, Ochs accepts the music
on its own terms. He leaves us with a highly favourable sense
of what the younger Bach was capable. And that is as much -
or more - than you expect.
Der Herr wird mit Gerechtigkeit celebrates the feast
of the Visitation and was probably written in the early 1750s.
Like O Wunder, wer kann dieses fassen on the first CD,
this is to a text by the Zerbst theologian, Johann Möhring which
was also first published in 1723 and also previously set by
Fasch. It matches grace with verve, certainty with reserve and
makes an excellent opening for the CD.
Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten is another
of the longer works on the CD. At almost 30 minutes, it is,
indeed, the most substantial of all the pieces on either CD
released so far. A cantata for Pentecost, it dates from Bach's
first year (1746) in Halle. Again, the opening is a remarkable
choral tour de force, though with largely unison singing.
Showing his father's influence, other movements present as much
contrast as they do convincing devotional concentration.
The Missa in g-Moll has only a Kyrie and Gloria. In German,
it seems to have been a 'repertory' work used more than once.
It shows Bach's contrapuntal choral writing at its strongest.
'Cantatas 2' also contains the Agnus Dei from another
mass, about which we know little. Again, the polyphony is striking.
It seems to suggest both Bach's father's own sublime command
of ways best to expose the text; and - amazingly - looks forward
in sonority to the Mozart Requiem!
Apparent discontinuities between this and the first Carus CD
aside, you should not hesitate over either if you are curious
about W.F. Bach, know (of) his choral writing and don't own
(because there aren't any) recordings of it, and/or love highly
individualistic Baroque sacred music. The acoustic and booklet
are supportive of the music; the latter informative with texts.
One anticipates eagerly the next volume in this series.