Bach, WF Sonatas F3 & F7; Fantaisies; Polonaises

A gifted young harpsichordist tackles one of music’s great originals: splendid

Author: 
Fabrice Fitch

Bach, WF Sonatas F3 & F7; Fantaisies; Polonaises

  • (10) Fantasias, F19 in D minor
  • (12) Polonaises, E
  • (12) Polonaises, E minor
  • (8) Fugues, D minor
  • Keyboard Sonata
  • (8) Fugues, C
  • (8) Fugues, C minor
  • (12) Polonaises, C
  • Fantasy
  • Keyboard Sonata No. 4
  • (12) Polonaises, G
  • (10) Fantasias, F23 in A minor
  • (8) Fugues, E minor

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach’s was a famously troubled life, offering all too easy fodder for armchair psychologists. Let’s leave that to them, and marvel at what glorious music he was able to salvage from the wreck. In the Fantasias, the music trips over itself in its rush towards the next harmonic goal, sometimes appearing to collapse several progressions within a single gesture. The Polonaises, which ensured that his name survived into the 19th century before his father’s was rediscovered, are more ordered but famously shot through with unexpected, startling effusions. The fugues, similarly, alternate between contrapuntal passages and more discursive episodes, and the sonatas (a form Wilhelm Friedemann seems to have pioneered) are filled with the excitement of new formal and expressive possibilities. The music flirts with incoherence and sometimes tips the precarious balance; but this recital is so well constructed that every piece hits the bullseye.

This is, in short, the best single selection of WF Bach’s keyboard music I’ve yet heard, and there have been several very impressive ones. Maude Gratton’s instinct for programming reveals great maturity and perception, and her playing is simply captivating, seeming to follow the composer in his flights of fancy and accesses of rigour with equal deftness. She’s not afraid to share in his risk-taking either; it takes a sure touch to extract percussive effects from a clavichord without sacrificing pitch (though close miking certainly helps). The pathos of the slow movements is restrained but palpable: this is playing of real purpose and subtlety, and music that demands to be heard. What more can I say, but that this has gone straight to my iPod.

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