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Johann David HEINICHEN (1683 - 1729): "Concertos & Sonatas"

Epoca Barocca

rec: October & November 2003, Studio Deutschlandfunk
CPO - 777 115-2 (© 2005) (59'42")

Concerto a 4 for oboe, bassoon, cello and harpsichord in G; Concerto a 4 for violin, viola da gamba and bc in D; Sonata a 2 for oboe and bassoon in c minor; Sonata a 2 for oboe and bc in g minor; Sonata a 3 for oboe, viola da gamba and bc in c minor; Sonata a 3 for oboe, violin and bc in c minor; Sonata a 3 for violin, oboe and bassoon in B

Alessandro Piqué, oboe; Margarete Adorf, violin; Hartwig Groth, viola da gamba; Ilze Grudule, cello; Sergio Azzolini, bassoon; Matthias Spaeter, archlute; Christoph Lehmann, harpsichord, organ

Composers of the 18th century were practical people: they wrote music for musicians in their environment, whose specific qualities they knew and exploited. Their compositions therefore tell us a lot about the features and level of music making where they were active. And the compositions written for the court chapel in Dresden - or music which was ordered elsewhere, in particular in Italy - reflect the characteristics of music making at the court. And the fact that many compositions performed in Dresden contain virtuosic parts for the oboe suggests the chapel had a brilliant oboist at hand. One of the composers to take advantage of that was Johann David Heinichen.

Heinichen was born in Krössuln near Weissenfels. Like his father he entered the Thomasschule in Leipzig where he received lessons at the keyboard from the then Thomaskantor, Johann Kuhnau. He was so impressed by the qualities of his pupil that he asked Heinichen to act as his assistant. Heinichen didn't plan a musical career, though: he studied law at Leipzig University and moved to Weissenfels to start a practice as lawyer. But Johann Philipp Krieger, then Kapellmeister at the court of Duke Johann Georg, encouraged him to compose music for festive occasions at the court. It was the beginning of a career in music: in 1709 he returned to Leipzig, composed several operas and played in the Collegium Musicum which was directed by Telemann. In 1710 Heinichen travelled to Venice, where he came into contact with several famous masters, like Gasparini, Lotti and Vivaldi. He also paid a visit to Rome, and in 1716 he returned to Germany. In 1717 he was appointed as Kapellmeister at the court in Dresden, a position he held until his death.

In Dresden Heinichen concentrated on sacred and secular vocal music - he composed just one opera, which remained unfinished - and instrumental works. Many of these are a testimony of his Italian experiences. He has a special preference for unusual combinations of instrumental colours (just like Telemann), as this disc shows in the Sonata a 3 in c minor for oboe and viola da gamba, and more specific for a contrast of high and low instruments, like violin and viola da gamba or oboe and bassoon. Most pieces are written in the traditional four movements of the sonata da chiesa, and in the booklet Karl Böhmer sees a similarity with the sonatas by his colleague Jan Dismas Zelenka (who often replaced him as Kapellmeister, because of Heinichens poor health). But the Sonata a 3 in c minor for oboe, violin and bc has only three movements and shows the influence of Vivaldi's concertos. Unlike Zelenka Heinichen avoids the 'learned style' and the use of chromaticism - he preferred the naturalness of the galant style.

When Heinichen was working at the court in Dresden, the city was in the middle of a period of cultural magnificence which was second to none in Germany. It all started when Friedrich August I of Saxony became Elector in 1694. The Wettin dynasty to which he belonged converted to Catholicism in 1697 so as to inherit the Polish crown. In order to provide the Catholic services at court with appropriate music the Churfürstlich Sächsische Capell- und Cammer-Musique was founded, which developed into the most brilliant ensemble in Germany. Most members were musicians of the highest level, due to the fact that they were highly paid and that they could concentrate on playing just one instrument - rather unusual at the time. One of the features of the court chapel was the inclusion of musicians from all over Europe, in particular France and Italy. It was in particular the Italian style which was favoured at the court, and Vivaldi belonged to its favourite composers.

One of the oboists in the chapel was the Frenchman François Le Riche (1662 - after 1733). Telemann met him in 1702, was impressed by his artistry and dedicated his collection Kleine Cammer-Music (published in 1716) to him and to his German pupil, Johann Christian Richter (1689 - 1744). How much they were admired can hardly be expressed better than by Telemann's words of dedication: "I venture to dedicate the present Kleine Cammer-Music to you in the confidence that it will be benevolently regarded, since I have had the honour of being acquainted with numerous examples of your goodness and courtesy, which can never be praised highly enough. Whether, however, this work will meet with your approbation remains yet to be seen. Were this to be so, since your virtu is admired by half the world, it would be no small matter."

There can't be any doubt that their skills must have inspired Heinichen to compose the pieces performed on this disc. And for the interpretation of the parts for the violin, the viola da gamba and the bassoon he had other equally famous players in the chapel at his disposal: the violinists Johann Georg Pisendel and Jean-Baptiste Volumier, the gambist Carl Friedrich Abel and the bassoonist Johann Gottfried Böhme.

The ensemble Epoca Barocca has made a fine choice of pieces from the large repertoire of instrumental music associated with the court in Dresden. As Heinichen was a key figure at the court and his music belongs to the best of the time it is only logical that the ensemble has concentrated on his oeuvre. The ensemble's performances are vivid and dynamic, and all members are masters on their respective instruments. I only had wished they had been a little more generous in the addition of ornamentation.

This disc gives an idea about the splendour of music making at the court in Dresden and I strongly recommend it.

Johan van Veen (© 2007)

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