Once derided as a perpetual drunk, reviled as the Bach son who dared sign his father's name to his own work, and his reputation barely surviving its usage as a fictionalized cause celèbre by the Nazi party, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach is starting, at the beginning of the twenty first century, to come into his own at last. Anthony Spiri, an American-born pianist who lives and works in Munich, Germany, weighs in on W.F. Bach on Oehms Classics' Wilhelm Friedemann Bach: Three Fantasias -- Three Fugues -- Three Sonatas, a handsome collection that features three recently discovered works never before heard.
Right off the bat, one of the previously unknown pieces, the Fantasia in C minor, really grabs your attention. The opening and middle sections betray the work of a questing, reflective soul deep in thought, whereas the contrapuntal contrasting material comes straight from idiom of his father, and not a second-rate approximation of it, but in music fully worthy of the model. Many composers have taken the music of Johann Sebastian Bach into other contexts, but it is highly illuminating to discover that Bach's eldest son was among the first to do so.
The program exhibits several facets of the unpredictable, eccentric nature of W.F. Bach and from listening to this, it is easy to see how his explosive-cum-expressive style remained at odds with the galant manner that dominated his era. The Fantasia in A minor F. 23 sounds not so much like an eighteenth century keyboard piece as a post-modern concoction based on one, so shot through with abrupt gestures, awkward syncopations, and outright crankiness it is. Anthony Spiri plays these pieces on a modern piano, and as it has been long established that W.F. Bach's music sounds good on a modern instrument, this should not hinder most listeners other than those who simply must have a period keyboard in such music. SWR's recording, however, is a bit distant, dim, and fuzzy; this is the only concern in what is otherwise a splendid program, further illuminated by Spiri's own excellently written and detailed notes.