Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710-1784)

CD 1
Concerto in F minor [18.22]
Concerto in F [26.18]
Concerto in E minor [28.37]
CD 2
Concerto in D [16.09]
Concerto in A minor [14.58]
Concerto in D for 2 harpsichords [18.53]
Concerto in E flat for two harpsichords [22.55]
Harmonices Mundi/Claudio Astronio (harpsichord and conductor)
Marco Facchin (harpsichord)
rec. Haus St Benedikt, Kloster Muri Gries, Bolzano, 14-17 November 2009
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94057 [69.22 + 73.02]
Wilhelm Friedemann (W.F.) Bach was the eldest son of Johann Sebastian (J.S.) Bach. His mother was J.S.’s first wife, Maria Barbara Bach, who, before she died, bore her husband seven children (one of whom was C.P.E. Bach). The other two famous musical Bach sons (J.C. and J.C.F.) were from Bach’s second marriage and thus are only half-brothers of W.F. In general, W.F. has been treated harshly by the critics and is the least well known of the four musical sons of J.S.
Being the eldest son, W.F. was heavily involved in the everyday musical activities of his father, especially at Leipzig, assisting as copyist, performer, proof reader, occasional composer and performer. This intense relationship may have affected his freedom to compose and some have reasoned that his compositional style is more severe and restricted as a result. Certainly when he left his father’s side and moved on to important musical positions of his own in Dresden, Halle, Darmstadt and eventually Berlin, both his style and his output blossomed, despite the fact that he always retained a compositional outlook that tended towards the serious.
The first disc consists of three concertos, in F minor, F and E minor and the second disc four – two further concertos (in D and A minor) for single harpsichord and two for two harpsichords (in D and E flat). The small string ensemble of Harmonices Mundi - now re-named the Bozen Baroque Orchestra, but retaining the original name on the CD insert - comes across as clear, but occasionally sparse and astringent. The five concertos for single harpsichord exist in a very similar sound-world and are distinguished by fine middle slow movements, in which the sound is deeper, more sinuous and intense with the harpsichord often taking a less prominent role. The second disc ends with two concertos for two harpsichords, in which Claudio Astronio is joined by Marco Facchin – the first concerto without accompaniment, and the more impressive second to the accompaniment of the full forces of Harmonices Mundi.
Although the concertos are rather straight in compositional style, they are nevertheless enjoyable. That said, I have to confess to having been generally unimpressed by the playing on this disc; the string intonation is occasionally not as secure as it should be, while the performances, sound and recording are otherwise only just adequate.
Fuller booklet notes would also have been welcome - ones that actually discuss the works in question, for example - and I could have done without the large photo of Claudio Astronio looking scruffy in trainers with laces untied – and his effusive list of thanks to friends, family and his hairdresser!
Em Marshall
Enjoyable but generally unimpressed by the performances.