Bach Notebooks for Anna Magdalena Hyperion

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Notebooks for Anna Magdalena
Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord and clavichord)
Carolyn Sampson (soprano)
rec. 2021, Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Loughton, UK
Texts and translations are provided.
Hyperion CDA68387 [77]

In his excellent note which introduces this disc, Mahan Esfahani makes the point that, until recently, there has been little or no commentary on the manuscripts which comprise the ‘notebooks’ for Anne Magdalena Bach, J. S. Bach’s second wife. The bulk of the pieces chosen for inclusion are solo keyboard works, with a handful of vocal items and a little material concerned with what is usually described as music theory. The selection of pieces includes those not only by Bach himself, but also some of the earliest keyboard compositions by his sons, Carl Philip Emmanuel and Johann Christian. Others represented include François Couperin with Les Bergeries from his 1716 Second Book of harpsichord pieces and a Minuet by Georg Böhm. Also present is the Aria from the Goldberg Variations and while this may suggest a somewhat miscellaneous collection, taken as a whole, it gives a clear picture of just how skilled Anna Magdalena Bach must have been, since Bach is unlikely to have included material which would be beyond her capabilities, despite the suggestion by some musicologists that it was a stretch of her abilities, which simply suggests misogyny.

Mahan Esfahani and Carolyn Sampson are the perfect exponents of this repertoire with every item given a scrupulously faithful performance that never patronises any of the pieces, but treats each of them as though it were a miniature masterpiece, as indeed many of them are. Both of the keyboard instruments are pungent and characterful and beautifully recorded. It is only comparatively recently that recording technology has been enabled to capture the intimate sound of the clavichord, which was the domestic practice instrument of choice in the eighteenth century and could only be heard to best advantage by the player. The equivalent of practising today on a digital instrument through headphones. Carolyn Sampson’s contributions are a particular pleasure and provide a welcome contrast to the keyboard pieces.

The effect of the disc as a whole is to present a portrait of Bach’s second wife through the music that he chose for her, a woman about whom we know so little and of whom there is not even a visual image. As Esfahani says, ‘Whilst the works…are slight and of seemingly little value…they nonetheless manifest the entire spirit of a civilization whose values we would do well to understand with the same energy with which we master Bach’s considerable demands on our technical and expressive abilities.’ 

This is a recording to which listeners will wish to return repeatedly.

Martyn Strachan

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Minuet in F major, BWV Anh. 113
Christian Pezold: Minuets in G major / G minor, BWVAnh114 & 115
Rondo in B Major, BWV Anh. 183
Minuet in G major, BWV Anh. 116
Polonaise in F major, BWV Anh. 117a
Menuett in B flat major, BWV Anh. II / 118
Polonaise in G minor, BWV Anh. 119
Chorale Prelude BWV691 ‘Wer nun den lieben Gott lässt walten’
Gib dich zufrieden, BWV510 *
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), 
Gib dich zufrieden, BWV511
Menuett in A minor, BWV Anh. II / 120
Menuett in C minor, BWV Anh. II / 121
Bach, C P E: March nach Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach BWV Anh.122
Polonaise in G minor, BWV Anh. 123
Bach, C P E: March in G major, BWVAnh124
Polonaise, BWV Anh. 125
So oft ich meine Tobackspfeife, BWV515 *
Böhm, G: Menuet fait par Mons Böhm in G major
Musette in D major, BWV Anh. 126
March in E flat major, BWV Anh. 127
Polonaise in D minor, BWV Anh. II / 128
Stölzel: Bist du bei mir *
Goldberg Variations, BWV988: Aria
Solo per il Cembalo in E flat major, BWV Anh. II / 129
Hasse, J A: Polonaise in G Major (BWV Anh. 130)
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1: Prelude in C major
Bach, J C: Rigaudon in F major, BWVAnh131
Warum betrübst du dich, BWV516 *
Cantata BWV82 ‘Ich habe genug’ Recitativo. Ich habe genug; Aria. Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen *
Schaffs mit mir, Gott, BWV514 *
Minuet in D minor BWV Anh 132
Willst du mein Herz mir schenken, BWV518 *
Dir, dir, Jehova, will ich singen, BWV299 *
Wie wohl ist mir, o Freund der Seelen, BWV517 *
Gedenke doch, mein Geist, BWV509 *
O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV513 *
Chorale Prelude BWV728 ‘Jesu, meine Zuversicht’
Minuet in G major, BWV841
Stölzel: Bist du bei mir *
* Carolyn Sampson (soprano)
Work by JS Bach unless indicated