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
CARUS 83.362 [69:01]

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
CARUS 83.429 [66:35]

These recordings have been reviewed before on these pages, with Volume 1 having been a Recording of the Month, and Volume 2 also highly regarded by Mark Sealey. The task of recommending these discs is an easy one. Expert performances of sparkling liveliness and stunning sonics make for a good starting point; attractive presentation and full booklet documentation by Peter Wollny are the icing on an already sumptuous cake.

Looking at the portrait of W.F. Bach on the cover of these releases, I was surprised to read that he had been regarded as an ‘awkward individual’ at the Marktkirche in Halle, being referred to as having a “dark, hard and strange character” by the Prussian Court capellmeister Johann Friedrich Reichardt. The music on these CDs would also seem more to reflect a personality of warmth and generosity of wit, such are the delights to be discovered. Right from the start of Ach, dass du den Himmel zerrissest on volume 1 and you know you’re in for a good time, with energetic repeated notes injected with stabbing brass and a choir given parts which can only be sung with gusto. The lightness of touch in the music is given animated presence by conductor Ralf Otto, and singers and musicians respond to swift tempi with breezy ease. Expressive vocal lines are given eloquent space to develop marvelous phrases, and numbers such as the Duetto from Wohl de, der dem Herren fürchtet are simply heavenly. Fans of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater will love this. The celebratory nature of much of this music is reflected in the first and third cantatas, which were both written for Christmas, and have a similarly uplifting feel to Wilhelm Friedmann’s famous father’s work in the same genre. Thwacks from the timpani and virtuoso choral writing are also a strong feature to the Ascension Day cantata Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen, and the wide range in this work brings us to the highlight of a disc filled with highlights.

Anyone hearing volume one of this pair will instantly want the second CD, and this is almost equally as enjoyable as the first. The timps and brass aren’t quite as crisp from the Rastatter Hofkapelle as L’arpa festante, but the playing is very fine, and answered by a choir whose articulation of the text is second to none – only the occasional weak tenor entry in some contrapuntal sections lead me to blink once or twice. W.F. Bach’s music is certainly as full of surprise here, with fearless harmonic wrinkles which make you look up from your Sunday coffee and make you want to play the thing again and again. As with the first volume, all of the solo singing is full of character. I hunted for the soloist’s names in vain for this release, so my only comments are towards the un-named bass. This gent has a fine voice, but I was glad most of the notes for Die Wunderkraft from Der Herr wird mit Gerechtigkeit were of a declamatory nature and the full vibrato wasn’t unleashed too often. Sustained and vibrato free notes in are also fine in Süße Liebe, hohes Gut from Wer mich liebet…, though they don’t sound as if they come that naturally to our bass, and technicians looking for some classic cross-fade phasing should have a listen at 1:13. In the end there are no real complaints to be made, though Bach’s ornate technical demands do push some passages’ distinctness to their limits at times, and coming directly to volume II after the exquisite qualities of Vol. I makes comparison perhaps a little unfair. All of the cantatas here are remarkably fine works, and the Missa in g-moll, which has only a Kyrie and Gloria due to the liturgical restrictions of the time, has some wonderful moments and is supplemented by the fine counterpoint of a separate Agnus Dei which has survived through a later manuscript.

With all of the works on volume II and the majority in volume I being world premiere recordings, Carus should reap deserved rewards for bringing these surprisingly neglected choral masterpiece to our attention. The ‘Halle’ Bach is certainly heard here to his best advantage in these works, and anyone who has tried his keyboard works and been less impressed should put aside their prejudices and leap into this world of discovery without hesitation.

Dominy Clements

Stunning masterpieces – dive in without hesitation.

see also reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2 by Mark Sealey