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Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710-1784)
Keyboard Works - Vol. 3
Keyboard Sonata in E flat, F.5/BR A.7 (?c.1747) [11:42]
Keyboard Sonata in B flat, F.9/BR A.16 (?c.1770) [15:40]
Keyboard Suite in G minor, F.24/BR A.39 (?c.1730) [23:32]
Keyboard Sonata in C, F.2/BR A.3 (c.1760-75) [11:54]
Keyboard Sonata in D, F.4/BR A.5 (c.1760-75) [12:51]
Julia Brown (harpsichord)
rec. Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Eugene, Oregon, 6-7 June 2011. DDD
NAXOS 8.572814 [75:37]

This is Brazil-born Julia Brown's second and Naxos's third volume devoted to the keyboard works of Johann Sebastian's eldest and arguably most original son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Previous releases were well received. The first volume, in 2007, featured American soloist Robert Hill playing Bach's masterly Polonaises and the strikingly original Sonata in D (F.3) on a 1720-ish fortepiano reconstruction (8.557966). The following year Brown, in her recording of Fantasias and (separate) Fugues, took to the harpsichord - Bach did not indicate which particular keyboard instrument his works were to be performed on. Occasionally the choice is made for the performer, as in Brown's most recent recording for Naxos (8.570571), of a number of Fugues by Bach that require a pedal - hence her recourse to the organ.
None of the above Naxos recordings were released to mark the tricentenary of Wilhelm Friedemann's birth in 2010. Surprisingly few other labels appeared to recognise the date - Brilliant (94057), Ricercar (RIC 297) and Accentus (ACC 20103) were among the honourable exceptions - although a spate of monographs in 2011 suggests that many had originally intended to!
A lot of falderal has been written about Wilhelm Friedemann, chiefly in the nature of unsubstantiated tittle-tattle based on unverifiable or disreputable sources, especially Carl Bitter's 1868 biography and Albert Brachvogel's bio-fantasy - unhelpfully made into an opera by Paul Graener and subsequently a Traugott Müller film, and more besides. In the internet age fable can soon become 'fact', and the unfounded rumours that Bach was a debauched ne'er-do-well with an Oedipus complex are perpetuated even by otherwise reliable sources like Encyclopedia Britannica. The in many ways scholarly Bach Cantatas Website offers a typically trashy example, taken from a long-since amended Wikipedia entry: "Unlike the rest of the family, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was a man of idle and dissolute habits, whose career was little more than a series of wasted opportunities". No reference in either case to recent academic studies!
Thankfully there has been no such complicity in Julia Brown's or Robert Hill's booklet notes - they in any case concentrate rightly on the music. Naxos, however, have used the same portrait of the composer - originating from early biographer/cataloguer Martin Falck (of the 'F' numbers) - on each of the three volumes, one that doubtless lends credence in its way to the image of Bach the cockscomb. The problem is, Wilhelm Friedemann was discredited as the subject a couple of years ago, as David Schulenberg's excellent new 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 half-brother, the famous 'London' one).
As for the music-making on this generously-timed disc, the recital finds both Bach and Brown at their best. The four three-movement Sonatas may be in the standard fast-slow-fast format, but they are instantly memorable for their witty elegance, invention and abundant melody. The Sonatas in E flat and B flat are especially so, with their sudden pauses, fits of speed and improvisatory feel, and the lyricism of the slow movements rates alongside the best of any Bach. The virtuosic Suite in G minor is the best work of all, its five dance movements glistening with the almost edible chromaticism of an immensely fertile imagination and paying tribute to Wilhelm Friedemann's father's own genius and benefaction in a language that undoubtedly made him proud. Brown plays with warmth of expression and a great sense of enjoyment instantly communicated through a fine-sounding instrument. Sound quality is very good, the church acoustic only mildly resonant.  


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