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Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710-1784)
Harpsichord Concerto in A minor, Fk45 [14:24]
Sinfonia in F, Fk45 [15:18]
Harpsichord Concerto in D, Fk41 [16:16]
Allegro e Forte in D minor, Fk65 [4:59]
Harpsichord Concerto in F minor, Fk43 [24;49]
Il Convito/Maude Gratton (harpsichord and direction)
rec. May 2012, L’Eglise de Xaintrailles, France
MIRARE MIR162 [74:00]

Bach’s eldest son has gone down in history as having led a dissolute life, in which drinking and gambling debts forced him to sell many of his father’s manuscripts, and in which his music has largely been eclipsed by that of both his father and his brothers, from whose shadow he struggled to escape. All of that may be true, to an extent, but as Groves Dictionary points out, he was “endowed with brilliant gifts [and] expressed himself in the genre of the time in a sensitive and highly cultivated musical language”. Certainly Groves’ assessment of his music is most powerfully supported by these eloquent, elegant and endearing performances from Maude Gratton and the five string players which constitute early music group Il Convito; violinists Stéphanie Paulet and Sophie Gent, violist Gabriel Grosbard, cellist Emmanuel Jacques and double bass player Joseph Carver.

Founded in 2005 by Maude Gratton, Il Convito specialises in ensemble music centred around a principal keyboard instrument. This is their eighth CD to date and has to be one of the most compelling presentations of W F Bach’s music available. From the first of the concertos it is clear that these are musicians deeply attached both to the music and to each other, and with Gratton’s fabulously fluent fingers scampering over the keys in the exuberant opening movement of the A minor concerto, one can recognise that characteristic in Bach’s music which prompted Carl Zelter to write in a letter to Goethe that it was written in “a petty, fussy, sterile way”. Fussiness and pettiness (in the sense that ideas tend to be very short-lived and work themselves through very quickly) give the music a splendid vitality, although there is nothing in these alert and vivacious performances which could give rise to any hint of sterility.

Gratton relishes the quasi-dramatic solo opportunities which crop up from time to time – there’s a gloriously extravagant cadenza-like burst for harpsichord after 4:15 in the first movement of the D major Concerto - but this is essentially excellent ensemble playing in which she is fully supported by the clear and tremendously alive playing of her colleagues; one instrument to a part but sounding as full blooded and with all the colour and dynamic range of something much larger. There are moments of pathos, which these performances briefly pass over with no pretence to emotional substance, and often these are spiced up by intriguing harmonic forays which seem a world apart from Bach Senior. If, as popular belief has it, Wilhelm Friedemann felt trapped by the legacy of his father, he seems to have pretty well shaken it off in these bright and highly individual works, and where he does perhaps come close to treading on his father’s feet, he quickly steps away; as with the amazing twists and turns of the buoyant Fugue which appears on this disc as an Allegro e forte.

Marc Rochester

Previous review: Jens F Laurson



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