Review By Johan van Veen , MusicWeb International,September 2011
The CPO disc [Complete Organ Works, CPO 777 527-2] promises us “the complete organ works” by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. This has to be taken with a grain of salt. To begin with, it is not easy to make a clear distinction between pieces for any keyboard and compositions specifically intended for the organ. Obviously pieces for two manuals and pedal can only be played at the organ. Those include the seven chorale preludes and the two Fugues in F and g minor respectively which Friedhelm Flamme included in his recording. Inexplicably he did not include the Fugue in F (F 36 / A 91) which Julia Brown has recorded. On the other hand Flamme plays several pieces which don’t require a pedal; these include the Fantasias in d minor and c minor
Although these two discs contain duplications, they also complement each other in that both offer pieces which don’t appear on the other disc. The two Fantasias I have just mentioned are absent from Julia Brown’s disc—she played them at the harpsichord on Naxos 8.570530—whereas she included various fugues which are not in the two catalogues of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach’s oeuvre. The reason is that they are not considered authentic. It is rather odd that this is not mentioned in the liner-notes. Authentic or not, it is nice to have them available, even though they have been recorded before—for instance by Leo van Doeselaar on Etcetera KTC 2503, 1984.
One can understand that they are considered doubtful, as some are very baroque in style and not very different from Johann Sebastian’s fugues. The Fugue in B flat (track 16) is a good example. But that in itself doesn’t tell against their authenticity. Listening to the chorale preludes one will notice their rooting in a past even before J.S. The cantus firmus is virtually unornamented, and Friedemann makes use of so-called Vorimitation in which the chorale melody is anticipated in the other voices. It was not only used by Sebastian but is also a feature of the chorale preludes by Johann Pachelbel (1653–1706). Other fugues begin in a rather old-fashioned manner but then turn towards the fashion of the time towards the end. This is typical of Wilhelm Friedemann who in his oeuvre moves to and fro between the various styles of his time.
The number of fugues he composed is remarkable and this is considered one of the reasons he fell from grace towards the end of his career. The form of the fugue had become largely obsolete, and when Friedemann attempted to get the Eight Fugues printed, publishers refused. These are very likely charactemore....