Ensemble Sans-Souci, Berlin

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach: Chamber Music

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The 300th anniversary of the birth of J.S. Bach's oldest son occurred in 2010, and this album was one of just a few observances of the event. Biographical data on Wilhelm Friedemann Bach is rather scanty, giving armchair musical psychoanalysts plenty of room for speculation on what it was like to be groomed for success by one of the greatest composers who ever lived. You can speculate yourself after hearing this program of music that varies between staying close to J.S. Bach's conservative style and sharply departing from it. The program is bookended by a pair of trio sonatas, recognizably products of the younger Bach's study of his father's trio sonatas for organ. They are dense works with thick figuration and an accomplished treatment of harmony. One is for a pair of flutes with continuo, the other for flute, violin, and continuo, and they're technically quite challenging. These and the other ensemble works on the album, which include an elegant pair of unaccompanied duos, were probably written for virtuoso players at the court of Dresden, the younger Bach's first employer. The progressive aspect of the album comes to the fore in the keyboard pieces, which annotator Philine Lautenschläger (no lute music is included, however) suggests is representative of Bach's skill as a keyboard improviser. This may be true especially of the two fantasias, probably inspired by similar compositions of the elder Bach. Most interesting, however, are the two polonaises (tracks 8 and 12), which are stylized versions of the allegedly Polish dance, with plenty of breaks in the tempo and other atmospheric details. They're distant ancestors of 19th century character-piece dances, and they don't sound like J.S. Bach or anybody else. This is a useful release for listeners interested in Bach's children, but the church sound is a major disincentive to the buyer; the engineers place you close enough to the players not only to hear them breathe, but to hear their lung conditions. The audience at the Saxon electoral court would have experienced nothing remotely like this.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Sonata in D major for Two Flutes and basso continuo
1 3:33
2 4:39
3 3:09
4 9:28
Duet in G major for Two Violas
5 4:40
6 3:58
7 2:25
8 3:33
Sonata in E minor for Flute and basso continuo
9 3:55
10 2:49
11 2:21
12 3:56
Duet in E minor for Two Flutes
13 3:35
14 2:48
15 3:49
16 6:55
Sonata in B flat major for Flute, Violin and basso continuo
17 4:22
18 5:20
19 3:01
blue highlight denotes track pick