BACH Family: Chamber music for two flutes
Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710-1784)
Trio in D for two flutes and continuo, F.48 [10:03]
Trio in A minor for two flutes and continuo, F.49 [5:29]
Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst BACH (1759-1845)
Trio in G for two flutes and viola [20:16]
Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782)
Trio in C for two flutes and bass, T.317/2 [10:20]
Johann Christoph Friedrich BACH (1732-1795)
Trio in C for two flutes and harpsichord obbligato, HW VII/7 [15:35]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Trio in E for two flutes and continuo, Wq.580 [17:29]
Hansgeorg Schmeiser (flute); Jan Ostrı (flute); Eszter Haffner (viola); Othmar Müller (cello); Ingomar Rainer (harpsichord)
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, Wales, September 2008. DDD
NIMBUS NI 5869 [79:22]
Apart from violist Eszter Haffner, these are the same soloists that featured on two previous releases by Nimbus of flute trios and sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach. These were reviewed on MusicWeb International here and here. Apart from being a general indication of these musicians' familiarity with the repertoire, this also means that the six 18th century trios played here are performed on modern flutes - something that may or may not appeal to the potential buyer.
The CD booklet is informative when it comes to biographies of the performers but disappointingly fails to provide any information beyond the track-listing on any of these trios. Dates of composition or publication, for example, would have been an important aid to the listener for slotting works into some kind of historical context. As the trios by W.F.E. and J.C. Bach are not listed in New Grove, any information regarding their authenticity or origin would be very welcome. In fact, the New Grove article on W.F.E. states that "Wilhelm Friedemann Bach [...] was almost certainly also the composer of the strongly contrapuntal Trio in G major for two flutes and viola, published as W.F.E. Bach’s by Rudolf Ermeler." Surely Nimbus should have something to say on this in their notes?
The works listed as being by Wilhelm Friedemann date from around 1740, two of a group of three trios. There is no question that W.F. was a highly original composer, even if much of his music was dispersed or lost when penury in old age forced him to auction off his estate - a number of his father's works included. The Trio in D is imaginative and sunny; the more reflective single-movement Trio in A minor is presumably the survivor from an originally longer work - again, the liner-notes ought to explain this.
Whether or not the Trio in C for two flutes and bass - shared between harpsichord and cello here - is J.C. Bach's handiwork, it certainly bears his stamp of quality; though short, it is a thoughtful, thoroughly beautiful work. The Trio in E by C.P.E. Bach also exists as a flute sonata. There are two main thematic catalogues of C.P.E.'s works, the older, probably more familiar one by Wotquenne, and the one published in 1989 by Helm. According to New Grove, C.P.E.'s Trio in E, listed as Wq.580 on this disc, is actually H.580 - or Wq.162. In any case, the work dates from 1749, well into C.P.E.'s Berlin years with the 'flute king', Friedrich II. Again, this is an outstanding work of art, marvellously mellifluous and contemplative, with a sparkling finale.
J.C.F. Bach is often know as the "Bückeburg Bach", although his son, W.F.E., has a greater claim to the title, having been born in Bückeburg. J.C.F.'s Trio in C, dating from the period 1770-80, was originally the fifth of a set of six trio sonatas, for keyboard, viola and flute or violin, three of which are lost. J.C.F.'s music often, and here, sounds like a stylish cross between that of his brother J.C. and half-brother C.P.E. As befits a fine keyboard-experimentalist, J.C.F.'s Trio accords the harpsichord a more prominent role, giving this work above any others on the CD the feel of a true trio. In this work at least J.C.F. is the equal of more illustrious family members.
W.F.E. was probably not as great a composer as his father, although so much of his work has been lost that it is not easy to tell. His - or more likely W.F.'s - Trio in G for two flutes and viola is in four movements. The viola is in this case at times quite difficult to hear, set back as it is from the two flutes, whose general high pitch tends to white out the rich middle tones of the viola. If this really is W.F.E.'s work, he is inexplicably writing in the style of the generation before - this is still clearly a Baroque piece, much more likely the work of an old W.F. than a very young W.F.E., whose earliest dated work is from 1788 and who, by the beginning of the 19th century, was already adopting the language of early Romanticism. Again, a fine, profound work.
An essay by harpsichordist Ingomar Rainer gives some background to the featured composers and the Bach family in general, but nothing referring to the recorded works in particular. Rainer's essay has been marred in translation from its original German by the kind of linguistic incompetence all too common in liner-notes. The translator - a company name is given - clearly has little idea what exactly the text is about. Quite why a concern of the stature of Nimbus does not bother to proof-read the texts of its own CD booklets is anyone's guess. But this is the kind of nonsense poor editing lets in: "But then it [the music] also has real intellectual fun glorying in the light-and-shade Freidemann"; or "Emanuel (of Hamburg) [is a master] of the drab and grey" - this latter phrase a ludicrous, sense-twisting rendering of "[der] Grau in Grau" (literally "the grey in grey"); as well as translating the German city of Halle into "Hall". There are many such examples.
Recorded at Nimbus's reliable Wyastone Leys facilities, sound quality on this disc is admirable throughout, and, with the exception mentioned above, instrumentalists nicely balanced. This is seventy-nine minutes of 24-carat music. It is very ably performed by an experienced team of soloists - and in Schmeiser's case played fittingly on a 24-carat gold instrument!
Seventy-nine minutes of 24-carat music very ably performed.

see also review by Kevin Sutton