Hot on the heels of volume three (review
), comes Brazil-born Julia Brown's third and Naxos's fourth disc devoted to the keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach's eldest and arguably most original son, Wilhelm Friedemann. Here Brown is joined for one double 'concerto' - actually another sonata more orchestral in scale - by Barbara Baird with whom she also performs as the Baird/Brown Duo. Otherwise this recording picks up from where the last left off, with the bonus of a few extra minutes' worth of music squeezed on.
The Sonatas in C and F continue to mine the vein of melodious warmth and sparkling elegance that runs through Bach's music, whilst the double sonata/concerto in F, once attributed to Johann Sebastian and reminiscent of Antonio Soler, doubles the lavish keyboard legerdemain.
The major work, however, is the expansive, virtuosic Sonata in D, described by Hubert Parry in the first edition of the Grove Dictionary as no less than "the most significant sonata before Beethoven", according to the accompanying notes. It is a complex, hypnotic work, thriving on its own harmonic instability and other stylistic cloak-and-dagger features. Brown tackles it with aplomb. An erstwhile organ student of Naxos stalwart Wolfgang Rübsam, she has a light, easy-going but precise touch. This she combines with gentle rubato to communicate expressive warmth and, especially in the two shorter sonatas, no small sense of diversion.
Sound quality is very good. The harpsichords are early period reproductions, dating to around the time of Wilhelm Friedemann birth, and have a bright, agreeable tone. The English-German notes by Brown herself are enthusiastic, well written and informative. On the other hand, the booklet itself is slightly undermined by the front cover. Naxos have once again used a portrait of the composer - originating from early biographer/cataloguer Martin Falck - that has been discredited as a true representation, as David Schulenberg's excellent biography, 'The Music of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach' (University of Rochester Press, 2010, p.11-12) explains. In fact, the subject is now thought to be Johann Christian Bach (1743-1814, not Wilhelm Friedemann's famous 'London' half-brother). Unfortunately, Bach's undeserved reputation as a popinjay with an Oedipus complex is perpetuated by editorial laxity of this nature, allowing the unsubstantiated tittle-tattle emanating from Carl Bitter's 1868 biography and Albert Brachvogel's bio-fantasy to gain a foothold in the popular imagination. In every other regard, though, a quality entry in a rewarding series.
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