Wilhelm Friedemann Bach Cantatas

His hat and fur-lined coat suggest a degree of fashionability, his
posture is relaxed and at ease, his eyes seem soft and his smile is
warm—perhaps even inwardly amused. Little of this suggests the earnestness of
his father’s Lutheran orthodoxy nor the serious striving of his father’s
musical endeavors. Yet, if personalities differed—and scholars now
acknowledge that later accounts of the son’s life are prone to
exaggeration—there is much that nevertheless allows us to see the father in
the son. Vocationally, Friedemann spent close to twenty years in the employ of
Halle’s Liebfrauenkirche, and in that capacity produced a significant number
of church cantatas, the genre that his father had brought to new expressive and
formal heights. This brilliant DVD presents four of these cantatas—“Wohl
dem, der den Herren f¸rchtet,” “O Wunder, wer kann dieses fassen,”
“Ach, dass du den Himmel zerrissest,” and “Gott f‰hret auf mit
Jauchzen”—in stunning performances by the Bachchor Mainz with the baroque
orchestra, L’arpa festante, under the direction of Ralf Otto.

The tutti movements for choir and orchestra tend to reveal Friedemann’s
musical formation at his father’s hand, with a substantial fugal component
deftly on display. And these movements, such as the first chorus of “Wohl
dem” or “Gott f‰hret,” are performed with highly effective choral
articulation and sensitively shaped vocal phrasing. Other instances reveal an
engaging programmatic touch, as in the first movement of “Ach, dass du den
Himmel zerrissest,” where the rending of heaven is dramatic, heightened by
the tension of choral unisons. (The movement is formally interesting, as well,
fashioned as a composite movement with chorus, accompanied recitative, and
arioso all in one fluid section.)

Of the soloists, Klaus Mertens, well-known for his Bach collaborations with
Ton Koopman, is especially fine. He possesses the rare ability to sing with an
easy lightness of tone that is nevertheless wonderfully resonant; this serves
him well in both recitative and virtuosic arias, of which those with obbligato
trumpets and horns are especially fine here. The wind playing of L’arpa
festante—prominently paired flutes, paired horns, and paired trumpets—is
highly accomplished and brings a richness of color and dynamism to the
cantatas’ more affective moments. The recording also includes an instrumental
Sinfonia in d minor that is partly an exercise in moody darkness and partly an
exercise in spirited counterpoint. The affective vividness and the interplay of
emotional contrasts are dramatically compelling, with the orchestra performing
with notable elegance.

Filmed amid the decorative richness of the Augustinerkirche in Mainz, this
concert of music by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach offers performances of high polish
in a contemporaneous setting that beckons to the eye, much as the music beckons
to the ear. Surely this is something else about which Friedemann might

Steven Plank

image_description=Wilhelm Friedemann Bach Cantatas
product_title=Wilhelm Friedemann Bach Cantatas
product_by=Bachchor Mainz; L’arpa festante; Dorothee Mields, soprano; Gerhild Romberger, alto; Georg Poplutz, tenor; Klaus Mertens, bass; Ralf Otto, Director. Recorded live at the St. Augustine’s Church, Mainz, 1 June 2010.
product_id=Accentus Music ACC-20103 [DVD]