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Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710 - 1784)
Keyboard Works - 3
Sonata in E flat (F 5 / BR WFB A 7) [11:42]
Sonata in B flat (F 9 / BR WFB A 16) [15:40]
Suite in g minor (F 24 / BR WFB A 39) [23:32]
Sonata in C (F 2 / BR WFB A 3) [11:54]
Sonata in D (F 4 / BR WFB A 5) [12:51]
Julia Brown (harpsichord)
rec. 6-7 June 2011, Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Eugene, OR, USA. DDD
NAXOS 8.572814 [75:58]

It won’t be long before all of Wilhelm Friedemann's keyboard music will be available on disc. Julia Brown participates in the Naxos project of recording his complete keyboard works. Léon Berben does the same for the German label Carus. About time too as Friedemann is one of the most intriguing composers of the mid-18th century and his oeuvre is hardly comparable with that of any of his contemporaries.
He was a rather controversial figure in his lifetime. His skills as a keyboard player were never in doubt but he was a difficult character to deal with, as some of his employers experienced. His compositions didn't appeal that much to the growing market of amateur keyboard players. They probably found most of them too technically complicated. They were also highly individualistic in character. Moreover, they show a mixture of various stylistic elements: on the one hand they reflected the fashionable features of his time, such as strong contrasts within a single movement, on the other he made use of polyphony which was considered something of the past.
The Suite in g minor is a perfect example of this dichotomy. The form of the suite itself was old-fashioned in Friedemann's time; it has many reminiscences of the keyboard suites and partitas of Johann Sebastian. At the same time they include strong contrasts as was common in the modern keyboard music of his time. One finds regular metrical shifts, wide leaps, frequent hand-crossing and chromaticism. The form of the suite may be typically baroque but these specimens from Friedemann's pen certainly are not.
The very first piece on the programme, the Sonata in E flat, starts with an allegro ma non troppo which shows several elements of Friedemann's style, especially chromaticism and frequent sudden pauses. The closing presto includes hand-crossing passages and drum basses, another feature of the time. The second movement, a largo, is of an imitative character. The same contrasts appear in the Sonata in B flat. The second movement is a lyrical grazioso, whereas the closing allegro di molto is built up from various passages of contrasting character, in which the tempo consistently shifts between allegro and andantino.
Bach senior turns up again in the first movement of the Sonata in C. The Sonata in D which closes the programme, is one of the less technically complicated pieces by Friedemann. The three movements are largely in two parts. The lyrical middle movement is followed by a sparkling vivace.
We can't be sure for which instrument Bach intended his keyboard music, apart from those which are obviously written for the organ. Most interpreters seem to prefer the harpsichord. The many contrasts in his music would make a good case for an instrument with a wider dynamic range than the harpsichord, especially the clavichord. That said, Julia Brown delivers a good interpretation and shows that it is certainly possible to display the contrasts at the harpsichord, especially through the opposition of the two manuals. I wasn't entirely happy with the previous disc by Julia Brown as I found some of her tempi a bit slowish. I have no quarrel with this disc: technically Ms Brown's performances are impressive, and the evocative character of Friedemann's keyboard works is convincingly conveyed.
Johan van Veen

see also review by Byzantion