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Johann Christian HERTEL (1697 - 1754): 6 Sonatas for violin and bc, op. 1

Rachel Harris, violin; Melanie Beck, cello; Andrea C. Baur, archlute, theorbo; Jennifer Harrison, harpsichord
rec: July 2005, Neustadt/Weinstraße, Haardtkirche
Cornetto - COR10026 (© 2005) (70'31")

Sonata I in F, op. 1,1; Sonata II in C, op. 1,2; Sonata III in c minor, op. 1,3; Sonata IV in g minor, op. 1,4; Sonata V in E flat, op. 1,5; Sonata VI in A, op. 1,6

Hertel isn't one of the most familiar names in 18th century music. He doesn't that often appear on concert programmes and his music isn't often recorded. Therefore I was quite surprised when I received no less than two discs with music by Hertel. I was even more surprised when I found out that only one of them consisted of music written by Johann Wilhelm Hertel - the composer I knew and the one I was just referring to. The other contained music by Johann Christian Hertel - someone I hadn't heard of before. But they are related: Johann Christian is the father of Johann Wilhelm, and was a musician and composer himself, and quite famous at that.

Johann Christian's father Jakob Christian was a musician as well, and three years after Johann Christian's birth he became Kapellmeister at the court of Merseburg. Here his father taught him to play the viola da gamba, and Georg Friedrich Kaufmann the keyboard. During the time he studied theology in Halle he got in touch with Johann Kuhnau, Thomaskantor in Leipzig. Soon he decided to concentrate on music rather than theology, and he studied the viola da gamba with the famous Ernst Christian Hesse in Darmstadt. Here he got acquainted with the Kapellmeister Christoph Graupner. In 1719 he moved to Eisenach, where he played as a violinist in the court chapel. From 1733 to 1741 he was concert master here, and during his time in Eisenach he made concert tours. He also played in Leipzig, where he visited Johann Sebastian Bach.
In 1741 the court chapel in Eisenach was dissolved and Hertel became concert master at the court of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. In 1751 his son Johann Wilhelm took over his duties as Johann Christian's health deteriorated. This didn't last long, as the court chapel was dissolved in 1752.

According to Johann Wilhelm his father composed a large number of instrumental works, but not many of them have been preserved. Considering the quality of the sonatas for violin and b.c. opus 1 recorded here - the only compositions ever published, in Amsterdam in 1727 - that is a great shame.

All sonatas are written in four movements and follow the pattern of the Italian sonata da chiesa. They are also rooted in the German violin school, in particular in regard to the use of polyphony. The second movement of the Sonata VI is a fugue, and in several other movements Hertel uses double stopping. The slow movements contain a lot of expression, whereas many fast movements are of a strong virtuosic nature. The last movement of Sonata IV contains chromaticism.

With these interpretations the artists have done Johann Christian Hertel a great favour. This recording is a most eloquent and convincing plea for the quality of Hertel's compositions. These are very rhetorical performances, with clear phrasing and articulation, strong dynamic accents and use of rubato. Also impressive is the rhythmic flexibility, for instance in the 'tempo di menuet', the last movement of Sonata III.

Johan van Veen (© 2007)

Relevant links:

Cornetto Verlag

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