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Wilhelm Friedemann Bach: Symphonies And Harpsichord Concertos

Bach,W.f. / Benuzzi / Arcomelo Ensemble
Release Date: 05/14/2013 
Label:  Bottega Discantica   Catalog #: 180   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Wilhelm F. Bach
Performer:  Michele Benuzzi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Arcomelo
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 8 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



W. F. BACH Symphonies: in F, Fk 47 ; in d, Fk 66 . Harpsichord Concertos: in a, Fk 45 ; in e, Fk 43 Michele Benuzzi (hpd, cond); Arcomelo Ens (period instruments) LA BOTTEGA DISCANTICA 180 (68:33)


Johann Sebastian Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, is probably one of the most interesting and Read more mercurial characters of the classical period. Unlike the other three brothers who became composers (and those would be, for the few who do not know them, C. P. E., J. C., and J. C. F.) of some renown, his career can best be described as “languished.” The German term Pechvogel (roughly translated in today’s vernacular as a “loser”) probably best describes his life, which began auspiciously enough as an organist in Dresden. After 13 years, his sovereign converted to Catholicism, and he was forced to find other employment. It was his misfortune that the job was in Pietist Halle, where after another 20 years of acrimonious relationships with the town authorities, he abruptly resigned with no prospects whatsoever. Although he was admired for his abilities in improvisation and for his church music, his own attitude—often gruff, bipolar, and stubborn—probably made him unemployable in any court. Moreover, he was occasionally abusive to his students and canceled concerts on a whim. This jinx also seems to have pursued him even into modern times, for it turns out that his well-known jaunty portrait, in which he looks like a sort of 18th-century eccentric, is actually of his cousin, and thanks to an excellent biography by David Schulenberg, the true images show an angular, intense fellow. It may even extend to this release, which was recorded back in 2007, copyrighted the next year, but apparently not released until now, a half a decade later.


This is not to say that W. F. has been ignored. Far from it, since there exist numerous recordings of both the symphonies and keyboard concertos, many of which are quite excellent, though some are almost two decades old. For the symphonies, the complete orchestral works with the C. P. E. Bach Chamber Orchestra under Hartmut Haenchen on Berlin Classics (originally released in 1994 but re-released in 2009), and for the keyboard concertos, the disc with the London Baroque on Harmonia Mundi from 1995 are my standards. Now, the Italian group Arcomelo, with Michele Benuzzi as the conductor/soloist, have paired his two surviving independent symphonies with two minor key concertos to add to the canon.


It is certainly true that all four of these compositions demonstrate the eccentric, maybe even bizarre, compositional fantasy of this Bach. Haenchen entitled the F-Major Symphony “the dissonant,” no doubt due to its strange nature. Here themes or motives appear willy-nilly, often being abruptly truncated so that a new but unrelated bit can be inserted. When added to Bach’s truly bizarre sense of harmony and how modulation functions, the result is a work of no equal. The opening movement is not just “quirky,” it is truly a strange animal that has no equivalent in the repertory. The second is filled with musical fragments that pop in and out, while the third movement consists of a musical question and answer that takes off on non-sequitur tangents before the final cadence. Only the minuet movement, performed in a much too solemn and respectful manner by Arcomelo, is more conventional. In the D-Minor Symphony, the opening imitative section in canon goes on far too long without variation, but the second movement, also contrapuntal, has a minuet-like theme that is massaged through various imitative entrances. The concertos have lengthy ritornellos, almost as if Bach were a bit leery of bringing in his soloist, and when the harpsichord does arrive, it is often somewhat mechanical in terms of virtuosity. As with the symphonies, the music tends to veer off in some odd (and occasionally awkward) directions.


The performance by Arcomelo is actually quite nice, though as noted, the minuet movement of the F-Major Symphony I find too genteel and respectful. They are in tune, have some good sense of ensemble and tempo, and seem intuitively to know how to bring out the strange world of W. F. Bach’s music. Michele Benuzzi performs his parts well, with a fine sense of timing in the concertos that make them more intimate than soloistic. My major quibble is with the booklet notes, which I found perfunctory and not very useful. I would not say that this supersedes any of the previous recordings of Bach’s music, and I still find Haenchen’s interpretation definitive, even though it is old. On the other hand, if one hasn’t yet experienced the strange musical world of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, this might be just the disc for you.


FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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Works on This Recording

1.
Sinfonia for strings in F major ("Dissonant"), F. 67 (BR C2) by Wilhelm F. Bach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Arcomelo
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1735-1740 
Venue:  Palazzo Pignano, Pieve di San Martino, I 
Length: 16 Minutes 9 Secs. 
2.
Harpsichord Concerto in A minor, F. 45 (BR C14) by Wilhelm F. Bach
Performer:  Michele Benuzzi (Harpsichord)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Arcomelo
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1735-1740 
Venue:  Palazzo Pignano, Pieve di San Martino, I 
Length: 6 Minutes 25 Secs. 
3.
Sinfonia in D minor ("Ricercata"), F 66 (arr. from keyboard fugues) by Wilhelm F. Bach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Arcomelo
Period: Baroque 
Venue:  Palazzo Pignano, Pieve di San Martino, I 
Length: 4 Minutes 54 Secs. 
4.
Harpsichord Concerto in E minor, F. 43 (BR C 12) by Wilhelm F. Bach
Performer:  Michele Benuzzi (Harpsichord)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Arcomelo
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1767 
Venue:  Palazzo Pignano, Pieve di San Martino, I 
Length: 27 Minutes 6 Secs. 

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