Even those who consider they know their way round the Bach family might pause at Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, not to be confused with Johann Christian Bach the ‘London Bach’ who was his youngest brother.
This Bach spent the whole of this working life at the court of Bückeberg. In the charming words of the brief but informative sleeve-note (in English only): “Unlike his brothers Wilhelm Friedemann and Johann Christian, he showed no penchant for a flamboyant lifestyle surrounded by the type of scandal which might have fired the imagination of fashionable authors of second rate fiction.”
Sadly, much of his work which survived in manuscript was lost in the bombing of Berlin in the Second World War. Four earlier symphonies survive; otherwise these three appear to be all that remain out of over twenty that he is known to have written.
They are played here in reverse chronological order. The B flat symphony, which dates from the last months of his life, begins with a slow introduction in the classical Haydn or Mozart manner. When the Allegro starts we find short, pithy and memorable motifs, incisive rhythms and attractive orchestration, with prominent parts for clarinets, which were just then establishing themselves in orchestras. There is a lyrical slow movement , a bumpy and adventurous minuet and a cheerful finale. The general effect is like a middle period Haydn symphony.
The other two works are much earlier, and closer to his brother C.P.E. than to Haydn or Mozart. They are each in three movements: fast – slow – fast, and use a harpsichord continuo throughout. The C major work is pleasant enough but the E flat one is much bolder, with strong dynamic contrasts and occasional bold harmonies.
The symphonies are played with great verve by Neues Bachisches Collegium which was a leading ensemble in the former East Germany and which still exists. Burkhard Glaetzner, a former oboist, directs. I must put in a word for the beautiful tone and elegant phrasing of the principal flautist, whose entries are always a pleasure to hear. The recording was made in 1992 in a church and is resonant but not too much so. Brilliant Classics have licensed this from Edel, which concentrates now on pop music. They did reissue it before, in 2002, in a box of symphonies by J.S. Bach’s sons. There is a more recent rival with exactly this programme from another Leipzig ensemble, the Leipziger Kammerorchester under Morten Schuldt-Jensen on Naxos
, which I have not heard. These are really attractive pieces and I am glad to have made their acquaintance.
Symphony in B flat W1/20
Largo – Allegro [8:45]
Andante con moto [6:45]
Rondo: Allegretto scherzando [3:51]
Symphony in E flat W1/10
Andante assai [6:08]
Allegro assai [3:38]
Symphony in C W1/6
Allegro di molto [4:21]
Allegro assai [6:26]