Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710 - 1784)
Cantatas 2
Der Herr wird mit Gerechtigkeit BR-WFB F 17/Fk 81 [19:30]
Missa in g-Moll BR-WFB E 1/Fk 100 [8:40]
Heilig ist Gott, der Herr Zebaoth BR-WFB E 3/Fk 78a [4:10]
Agnus Dei BR-WFB E 4/Fk 98b [5:45]
Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten BR-WFB F 12/Fk 72 [27:56]
Rastatter Hofkapelle/Jürgen Ochs
rec. 5-7 July 2010, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden, Germany. DDD
CARUS 83.429 [66:35]

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), will contain.

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.

Mark Sealey

The second in the admirable survey by Carus of W.F. Bach's cantatas. While completely different from the first in personnel the second is just as compelling. Good at last to have this wonderful music available in such expert and articulate performances.