and his Family at Mordenandacht" (1870), by Toby Edward Rosenthal.
Listening to Michael
Behringer's sparkling performance of the famous Menuet in G (yes,
that Menuet [Nokia 6100 series Ring Tone No.24. You've
heard that one before, definitely. - Ed.]) is a nostalgic experience,
with its sprinkling of "twiddly bits". It is certainly a far cry
from the stolid renditions we are more often accustomed to - which,
for most music students, would have been their first exposure to
the music of Bach.
fact, this is how Behringer tackles the Clavier-Büchlein:
playing through the collection in its entirety with lots of energetic
flair and extroversion, painting a very persuasive musical picture
of the domestic 18th century family in the days before television,
videotapes or the Internet.
the most part, he applies an intelligent, musical sense towards
embellishments and rubato. His ornamented reinvention of the aforementioned
Menuet (Nos.4 & 5) simply makes the listener feel like it's
being heard again for the first time. The diminuitive march by Johann
Christian Bach (No.16) is coyishly delightful, not to mention the
lute-like first Prelude of the Forty-Eight (No.29)
in its ripples of layered musical furbellows.
"A Day in the Life of"
are, in fact, no less than three Clavier-Büchlein
to be found in the collection of the Bach family. The first
book was for Wilheim Friedmann, the eldest of the Bach progeny,
while the second and third from 1722 and 1725 respectively
were for Bach's second wife, Anna Magdalena.
musical scrapbooks offer us an insight into the musical life
and character of the Bach family; indeed, it provides a rare
cross-sectional glimpse of "a day in the life of" domestic
music in the eighteenth-century. Of the three Clavier-Büchlein,
it appears that the last volume had special importance to
the Bach family: the manuscript was bound in green parchment,
with gold trim on the cover and spine, the edges limned in
gilt and on the cover, initialled with AMB with the year 1725
below, bound together with ribbons of red satin.
manuscripts were arranged by Anna Magdalena, apparently, with
an artistic plan, starting with the A minor Partita and ending
with the chorale O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort. The Aria
from the Goldberg Variations is included, as well as
Bist du bei mir, the first Prelude of the Forty-Eight
and two French Suites. And there is also the famous Menuet
in G, originally attributed to Bach but now known to be the
work of one Dresden organist Christian Petzold.
of the entries in the book were made by Anna Magdalena herself,
daughter of the trumpetist at Cöthen and a talented pianist
and court singer herself; the folio was a present to her when
she was twenty-four. Other identifiable hands who wrote in
it, apart from Johann Sebastian himself, were his sons Carl
Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian Bach, as well as family
friends Johann Gottfried Heinrich and Johann Gottfried Bernhard.
the eldest son Wilheim Friedmann, who was himself a renowned
keyboardist and for whom Bach had compiled the first Clavier-Büchlein
when he was ten, made no contribution. But this music, so
painstakingly copied by Anna Magdalena for herself and her
family, represents the best-loved music of Bach's family.
there are some instances where Behringer's attitude towards the
music is overdriven and becomes rather too well done, resulting
in a certain degree of blandness and sobriety. By and large, though,
this occurs in the transcriptions of Bach's own weightier works.
aria of the Goldberg Variations (No.26), for example,
is wilfully slow and unsubtle, and Behringer's irregular tempi unduly
distorts the rhythmic pattern. The first of the French Suites (No.30)
somehow lacks the imaginative flair one expects at this level of
performance, and the Partitas which preface the entire collection
(Nos.1 & 2) are equally uninspiring, albeit competently played.
Certainly, they could could have borrowed some of the friskiness
from, say, the solo per il Cembalo (No.27) by Carl Philipp
the second disc, Behringer is joined by a pair of vocalists to round
out the performances. Johannes-Christoph Happel is an excellent
vocalist, understandingly supported by Behringer, and sings with
a fresh, youthful timbre. Even if his baritone lacks a little in
weight, the legato of his phrasing makes for compelling listening.
It is a pity that his contribution to this album, as compared to
his female counterpart, is minimal.
Rubens, with the lion's share of the vocals, sings most tenderly
and is as remarkable as I have ever heard her on record, the only
snag being the overly-spacious sound and the fierce miking which
accentuates her sibilants rather harshly. Fortunately, this is more
than overshadowed by the chaste quicksilver of her timbre quality:
her renditions of Bist du bei mir (No.25) and Dir, dir
Jehova (No.39b) are simply charming, and the other arias are
no less telling.
documentation by Dr Andreas Bomba is comprehensive, with an eminently
instructive overview of the entire Clavier-Büchlein,
as well as individual histories and commentaries on each of the
items included. This is, along with its companion volumes (Clavier-Büchlein
for Anna Magdalena Bach 1722 (CD 92.135) and Clavier-Büchlein
for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (CD 92.137)), arguably the most
complete collection of the Bach family "musical notebooks".
this issue is a bit of a curate's egg to me. While the individally
collected movements and "odds and ends" are performed - the vocalists
included here - with much élan and zest and alone would have
earned an unconditional recommendation, Behringer's reading of the
Partitas and French Suites (and these total almost seventy-six minutes
of playing time) is obstinately unengaging.
acquire two discs for effectively the contents of one is uneconomical,
which is a great pity since the Bachklugeln are in every
way superbly done. Listeners will have to weigh for themselves the
cost of paying more against obtaining this repertoire: caveat
emptor. But those who can indulge - well, needn't hesitate.
is presently conducting a study on how much royalties Bach would
earn, if he were still alive today, on handphone transcriptions
of his music.
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