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W.F. Bach: 12 Polonaises; Sonata in D; Fantasia

W.F. Bach: 12 Polonaises; Sonata in D; Fantasia

Robert Hill Piano (Forte)

CD: 1
Tracks: 16
Length: 1:02:30

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Naxos
Rel. 27 Nov 2007
Recorded 2005

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W.F. Bach: 12 Polonaises; Sonata in D; Fantasia Naxos' Wilhelm Friedemann Bach: Keyboard Works I, featuring fortepianist Robert Hill playing a superb-sounding reconstruction of a Bartolomeo Cristofori-era instrument, contains no less than the fifth complete recording of Bach's set of 12 Polonaises, F. 12. While much of Bach "Son Number 1"s slim output remains obscure or little known, the polonaises seem near to achieving an iconic status, as stylistically they belie the standards of other eighteenth century keyboard music in almost every way. Extremely flexible rhythmically, they represent daunting challenges to keyboardists even as they appear relatively clear and simple on the page. Superficially textural in the manner of harpsichord music, they sound equally well on harpsichord, fortepiano, or even a modern concert grand. While different instruments expose various aspects of Bach's music, certain elements remain constant—his retiring restraint, great variety of ornaments and his disdain for clearly defined formal development. W.F. Bach's Polonaises change courses in midstream, contrapuntal lines and imitation appear slightly out of sync, ornaments pop up in odd places, and other quirky things happen as a matter or course.

In Robert Hill's interpretation, Hill eschews the standard notion that Bach's music falls somewhere between the Baroque and Classical styles, or that it even reflects Classicism at all. For Hill, W.F. Bach is a Romantic, plain, pure, and simple; as he states in his notes, "In the twelve Polonaises...[Bach] pioneered the expansion and ultimately the emancipation (or breakdown) of the tonal system...playing deftly with harmonic disorientation...as the central expressive element." Interpretation of these pieces can be wide-ranging, and just how one plays them can determine just how "romantic," or otherwise, W.F. Bach can sound. Heida Hermanns, who first recorded the Polonaises in 1962 for the Society of Forgotten Music label—a concern that itself has become "forgotten"—represents the other extreme from Hill's; she seemed almost overly concerned about keeping a constant, classical tempo no matter what the cost to Bach's expressive appoggiaturas. However, Hill dives in, as deep into elastic rhythm as Bach's music will allow, and if he is concerned about maintaining a central pulse in this music at all, it is not apparent. Which begs the question, does W.F. Bach belong to his time, or not? In most cases, other players who have taken on this repertoire fall somewhere in between these two poles, utilizing expressivity, but moderated with at least some regularity of tempo. Hill's reading of the Keyboard Sonata in D, F. 3, is so off the rails that it seems to make little sense musically, and one wonders that if this is the way Bach played the piece in 1745 how anyone could have taken him seriously as a musician—it sounds like David Helfgott on a bad day. The constant slackening of tempo in the Fantasia in A minor, F. 23, a work that does benefit from some fluidity of approach, makes the piece drag here, as though instilled with a kind of inertia rather than reflexiveness.

Nevertheless, Naxos' Wilhelm Friedemann Bach: Keyboard Works I certainly makes for an interesting listen, and for those who would enjoy an interpretation of W.F. Bach's music that emphasizes the most extreme possibilities to be found there, this is the vehicle.

© Uncle Dave Lewis, All Music Guide
Portions of Content Provided by All Music Guide.
© 2008 All Media Guide, LLC. All Music Guide is a registered trademark of All Media Guide, LLC.
AMG
CD 1
1 Polonaise No.1 in C 2:41
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2 Polonaise No.2 in C- 3:24
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3 Polonaise No.3 in D 3:55
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4 Polonaise No.4 in D- 1:23
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5 Polonaise No.5 in Eb 3:40
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6 Polonaise No.6 in Eb- 5:28
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7 Polonaise No.7 in E 3:30
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8 Polonaise No.8 in E- 3:24
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9 Polonaise No.9 in F 1:51
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10 Polonaise No.10 in F- 4:58
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11 Polonaise No.11 in G 3:37
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12 Polonaise No.12 in G- 3:33
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17:58
Robert Hill Piano (Forte)
13 1.Un poco Allegro 5:08
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14 2.Adagio 6:02
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15 3.Vivace 6:48
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16 Fantasia for keyboard in A-, F.23 3:08
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