COMPOSERS: JM Bach
WORKS: Friedens-Cantata; Das Volk, so im Finstern wandelt; Herr, wie sind deine Werke so gross und viel; Mache dich auf, werde licht
PERFORMER: Soloists; Rheinische Kantorei, Das Kleine Konzert/Hermann Max
CATALOGUE NO: 999 671-2
By around 1800, musical inspiration was trickling pretty thinly in the Bach family. And I doubt whether either of these discs would have been made but for the famous name. Son of JCF, Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst Bach (1759-1845) was the only grandchild of Johann Sebastian to become a professional musician; and on this showing, his music is amiable, homely and stubbornly unmemorable. Both the Cantata celebrating the Peace of Westphalia (1788) and the Masonically inspired Vater unser sound like low-voltage, sub-Zauberflöte Mozart, while the Columbus Ballad is almost comically bland for its subject, with the sailors’ mutinous threats irresistibly suggesting silent movie music. The two brief sinfonias have some ear-tickling woodwind solos; but as so often with minor composers of this period, the invention is melodically short-breathed and harmonically predictable.
On the other disc, the four short cantatas by Johann Michael Bach (1745-1820), a distant relation of WFE from the Hessian branch of the family, also have their share of vapid moments. But the extended Friedens-Cantata, written to celebrate the end of the Napoleonic wars, makes a stronger impression, with a couple of delicately scored pastoral numbers, stern choruses in old-fashioned species counterpoint and a spectacular onomatopoeic ‘war’ aria for bass. Though he can drive the music a bit hard, Hermann Max gives lively, committed performances of all the works here and draws tangy sonorities from his period forces. The choir, with little to inspire them, sings with pleasant, soft-grained tone, and all the soloists do well, notably the graceful tenor Howard Crook and the two stylish, unfussy basses, Gotthold Schwarz and Klaus Mertens. Richard Wigmore