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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Six Little Preludes, BWV 933-938 (1717-1720) [10:23]
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903 (c. 1717) [11:58]
Selection from The Little Notebooks for Anna Magdalena Bach (c. 1722-1725)
Menuet in G Major, BWV Anh. 114 [1:30]
Menuet in G minor, BWV Anh. 115 [1:25]
Menuet in G Major, BWV Anh. 116 [1:40]
Polonaise in G minor, BWV Anh. 123 [1:16]
March in D Major, BWV Anh. 122 [1:03]
Musette in D Major, BWV Anh. 126 [0:56]
Chorale: “Wer nur lieben Gott läßt walten,” BWV 691 (c. 1724) [1:57]
Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825 (1726) [17:00]
Toccata in D Major, BWV 912 (c. 1707) [10:26]
Carl Seemann (piano)
rec. March 1953 & July 1958, Beethoven Saal, Hanover
Presto CD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 8049 [59:34]

Bremen-born pianist and organist Carl Seemann (1910-1983) gravitated to Leipzig, where he absorbed the artistic tradition of J.S. Bach, especially in organ music. Studies with Liszt pupil Carl Adolf Martienssen (1881-1955) convinced Seemann that he could pursue a career as a piano virtuoso and aged twenty-five Seemann embarked upon recital program that featured relative rarities in German piano repertory, such a music by Bach, Chopin, and Scarlatti. Seemann no less cultivated a taste for contemporary music, such as that by Stravinsky, Bartok and Hindemith. After World War II, Seemann collaborated with violinist Wolfgang Schneiderhahn in performance and on records of sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven. Assessments of Seemann’s manner attribute his cleanliness of articulation and purity of style to his embodiment of the Neue Sachlichkeit, or “objectivity,” advocated by post-War musicians as an “antidote” to the Romantic excesses attributed to musicians who favored the Russian or Slavic approach to music-making.

The present set opens with the 6 Little Preludes of Bach, composed 1717-1720 as pedagogical exercises to strengthen the independence of the hands in brief but demanding, contrapuntal pieces. Their similarity to Bach’s two-part inventions becomes clear, especially in the D minor, BWV 935 and E minor, BWV 938. Seeman’s brisk clarity in the No. 5 in E major has all the appeal which Glenn Gould brings to Bach, exciting rhythms and a defined lilt that accords the piece a sense of character. The familiar Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue begins rather marcato, almost chaste, but Seemann soon imparts a generous sense of tone and harmonic variety in the recitative passages and the flowing runs and arpeggios. This large work, rich in virtuoso passages and harmonic audacity, allow Seemann to exploit his gift for arioso phrasing and well-considered pauses that add to the impulsive sense of drama that sets the three sections of the piece as distinct and yet totally unified. The work’s often hybrid combination of fantasia and toccata finds a clean, directed realization in the strictures of the three-part fugue, and even the episodes retain a dance character. The density of the textures assumes an organ sonority thoroughly suited to the occasion, and Seemann’s last pages provide a dramatically satisfying sense of closure.

Seemann chooses six pieces from Bach’s Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach, the set from 1725, including the annexed pieces of dubious authenticity. The familiar opening Menuet in G, BWV Anh. 114 is all charming simplicity, a cross between march and musette. Its G minor counterpart, BWV Anh. 115, proceeds no less graciously and delicately, the lines etched brilliantly. The Polonaise in G minor, BWV Anh. 123 resounds in martial colors, risoluto and assured. The March in D, BWV Anh. 122 emerges, happily, as a touch piece in shades of color, even in staccato. The little Musette in D, BWV Anh. 126 that concludes the set projects a lively rusticity that lingers long after the last chords. The brief but intensely devotional chorale, Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten (Who only lets dear God rule) appears as a text in Cantata 93, a stately, ornamental meditation whose arioso simplicity aligns it with the slow movement of the F Minor Concerto, BWV 1056.

When we speak of classic performances of the 1726 B-flat Major Partita No. 1, we quickly turn to the reading by Dinu Lipatti in his last recital from 1950. There, we find a sterling technical arsenal fused with a pure, poetic impulse. Seemann plays the Partita in an Italianate manner, light and flexible in touch and phraseology. The periods emerge clearly defined, especially in the Allemande, whose lilting top line flows without affectation. The dancing Courante proceeds with poise and verve. Textural clarity serves as Seemann’s strong suit, well appreciated. The Sarabande, originally of Spanish origin, may proceed a mite too quickly for more Romantic tastes, but its sonorous treble part carries us forward in a procession of noble power. An alternation of eighth notes and quarter notes marks the two succeeding Menuet movements, each playful and galant, as required. Much like Lipatti, Seemann keeps the first of the Menuets suavely alive despite its “mechanical” posture. Finally, after a soothing reprieve in Menuet II, we come to the ever-dazzling Gigue, a thing to behold with both eyes and ears, whenever possible. Seemann plays this little toccata fast and lightly, the crossed hands capturing the magical acrobatics without strain or affectation, a marvel of its kind.

Bach conceived his 1707 Toccata in D Major, BWV 912 after the manner of his model Buxtehude, whose North German, periodic style Bach well admired. The somewhat startling opening Seemann plays without softening the effect, moving to A Major and some audacities in color, allegro. Seemann executes the heavily chromatic fugue in F sharp with consummate clarity, without rushing the counterpoints. The tempo slows down for a recitative section, ripe with thick, dark chords, then brilliant runs, and then on to the whiplash, triplet-laden Fuga, which dances and urges itself forward to culminate in dervish sixteenths worthy of any and all the great devotees of the Bach keyboard tradition. Seemann has taken us on a grand tour.

Gary Lemco

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