Notes and Editorial Reviews
By all accounts Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was the greatest organist
of his time in Germany. The music critic Christian Friedrich
Daniel Schubart stated: "Undoubtedly the greatest organist of
the world! He is a son of the world-famous Sebastian Bach and
has reached - if not surpassed - his father's virtuosity." He
then goes on to describe his features: "a fiery genius, a creative
imagination, originality and inventiveness, a stormy quickness,
and the magical power to enchant every heart with his play on
the organ". Bach's oeuvre for the organ bears witness to that
description, and it is a great shame that so little of his art
has come down to us.
The CPO disc promises us "the complete organ works" by Wilhelm
Friedemann Bach. This has to be taken with a grain of salt.
To begin with, it is not easy to make a clear distinction between
pieces for any keyboard and compositions specifically intended
for the organ. Obviously pieces for two manuals and pedal can
only be played at the organ. Those include the seven chorale
preludes and the two Fugues in F and g minor respectively
which Friedhelm Flamme included in his recording. Inexplicably
he did not include the Fugue in F (F 36 / A 91) which
Julia Brown has recorded. On the other hand Flamme plays several
pieces which don't require a pedal; these include the Fantasias
in d minor and c minor which open and respectively
close, his programme. Also no pedal is required in the Eight
Fugues (F 31 / A 81-88), but here Friedemann has specifically
indicated that they can be played either at the "Clavier" (any
keyboard without pedals) or the organ.
Although these two discs contain duplications, they also complement
each other in that both offer pieces which don't appear on the
other disc. The two Fantasias I have just mentioned are absent
from Julia Brown's disc - she played them at the harpsichord
8.570530 - whereas she included various fugues which are
not in the two catalogues of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach's oeuvre.
The reason is that they are not considered authentic. It is
rather odd that this is not mentioned in the liner-notes. Authentic
or not, it is nice to have them available, even though they
have been recorded before - for instance by Leo van Doeselaar
on Etcetera KTC 2503, 1984.
One can understand that they are considered doubtful, as some
are very baroque in style and not very different from Johann
Sebastian's fugues. The Fugue in B flat (track 16) is
a good example. But that in itself doesn't tell against their
authenticity. Listening to the chorale preludes one will notice
their rooting in a past even before J.S. The cantus firmus
is virtually unornamented, and Friedemann makes use of so-called
Vorimitation in which the chorale melody is anticipated
in the other voices. It was not only used by Sebastian but is
also a feature of the chorale preludes by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706).
Other fugues begin in a rather old-fashioned manner but then
turn towards the fashion of the time towards the end. This is
typical of Wilhelm Friedemann who in his oeuvre moves to and
fro between the various styles of his time.
The number of fugues he composed is remarkable and this is considered
one of the reasons he fell from grace towards the end of his
career. The form of the fugue had become largely obsolete, and
when Friedemann attempted to get the Eight Fugues printed,
publishers refused. These are very likely characteristic of
his style of playing, and that could well have been the reason
that in the last stage of his life he wasn't in much demand
as an organist any more. It is assumed that he mostly improvised
during his public concerts; that is probably the reason so little
organ music by him has been preserved.
The duplications allow us to compare the interpretations of
these two organists which are quite different. A look at the
track-lists reveals that Julia Brown is consistently slower
than Friedhelm Flamme. It is mostly not possible to decide which
tempo is right. The Fugue in F (F 33 / A 90), for instance,
works in both performances quite well. The slower reading by
Julia Brown lends it a kind of gravity and seriousness which
suits its character as it is reminiscent of the fugues in Sebastian's
Well-tempered Clavier. Elsewhere the slow tempo works
against the music, for instance in the Fugue in c minor
(track 6) where the trills are unnatural. One could probably
characterise Ms Brown's performances as analytical: every detail
is exposed, thanks not only to the relatively slow tempi but
also the registration which is mostly modest and allows for
every single voice to be followed.
The differences between these two discs are also due to the
organs. Julia Brown plays an instrument built by Paul Fritts
and Company in 1999, which was clearly inspired by the German
baroque organ. Friedhelm Flamme also plays a modern organ by
Martin Hillebrand dating from 2008. Here new stops have been
built in the style of the 18th century, particularly based on
the disposition of the organ by Christian Vater which was built
in this church in the 1730s. Some pipework from the organ Carl
Giesecke had built in the same church in the 1860s has been
incorporated into this organ. Because of that the sound is quite
different, mellower and less penetrating than the sound of the
organ Julia Brown plays. I don't want to choose between them.
The Eight Fugues come off beautifully at the Hillebrand.
So do the chorale preludes, but in these somewhat old-fashioned
pieces the Fritts organ is probably closer to what Bach had
at his disposal in his earlier years.
Both booklets leave something to be desired. I have already
identified that the doubtful authenticity of several pieces
in Julia Brown's recording is not mentioned. Otherwise the liner-notes
are not very specific about the various pieces. The CPO booklet
contains some general information about Wilhelm Friedemann as
an organist, but little analysis of the music. The track-lists
should have given the numbers in Peter Wollny's catalogue as
well, in particular as Falck's catalogue is out of date. I have
added them on the basis of the work-list in New Grove.
Both recordings have their merits and those who have an interest
in Wilhelm Friedemann's music shouldn't miss either of them.
-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International Read less
Works on This Recording
Fugues (8) for keyboard, F. 31 (BR A81-88) by Wilhelm F. Bach
Friedhelm Flamme (Organ)
Written: circa 1774-1778
Venue: Münsterkirche St. Alexandri zu Einbeck
Length: 15 Minutes 54 Secs.
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