Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was the first, and in many ways worst, of Bach's sons. A careless man, a thoughtless son, and a reckless composer, he ruined his career as a musician, lost dozens of his father's scores, and didn't take any better care of his own. This 1993 Berlin Classics disc features six of W.F. Bach's nine extant works bearing the title symphony. Two of them, the four-movement Sinfonia in F major and the two-movement Sinfonia in D minor, are independent orchestral symphonies in the early classical sense. The other four are orchestral movements excerpted from cantatas and thus symphonies only in the high Baroque sense. Closing the disc is a five-movement Suite in G minor that may or may not be by Bach, thereby demonstrating just how messy his catalog is.
Whatever their providence, all seven works here are given the deluxe treatment by Hartmut Haenchen and the Kammerorchester Carl Philipp Emanuel. A terrific, all-around conductor with excellent recordings of Mahler and Bruckner to his credit, Haenchen delivers a standout set of performances here. His tempos are brisk but not clipped, his textures crisp but not thin, and his rhythms strong but not heavy. Best of all, Haenchen grasps the uniqueness of W.F. Bach's appeal. The independent orchestral symphonies' quirky phrasing and odd structures are superbly articulated, and though the Christmas Cantata's horn-driven G major Sinfonia lacks the distinctive profile of the dolorous D minor Sinfonia and the dissonant F major Sinfonia, Haenchen is no less successful in granting the works their musical due. The Kammerorchester Carl Philipp Emanuel, despite being named for Wilhelm Friedemann's more responsible younger brother, provides stylish and attractive performances. With clean, clear but immediate sound, this disc will delight those who already know W.F. Bach's music and perhaps persuade those who don't.