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Johann Gottlieb JANITSCH (1708 - 1763): "Darmstadt Sinfoniae"

Antichi Strumenti
Dir: Laura Toffetti, Tobias Bonz

rec: May 25 - 27, 2009, Pstrazna (Kudowa, Poland), [Evangelical Church]
Cypress - CYP1658 ( 2011) (55'27")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & tracklist

Sinfonia in E; Sinfonia in E flat; Sinfonia in F; Sinfonia in G; Sinfonia in G; Sinfonia in B flat

In recent years the rich musical life at the court of the Crown Prince and later King Frederick (the Great) of Prussia has been extensively explored. This has resulted in discs devoted to the music of the Benda and Graun brothers and composers like Quantz and Schaffrath. There is still much to discover, for instance the music of Christoph Nichelmann, Christian Friedrich Schale and Georg Czarth. Johann Gottlieb Janitsch also figures among the masters of what has been called the Berlin School.

He was born in Schweidnitz in Silesia (now Swidnica in Poland) and was educated at the bass viol. His first activities as a composer date from his time in Frankfurt an der Oder where he registered as a law student in 1729. He played an active role in the musical life of the city and received several commissions to compose music for special occasions. In 1736 he joined the chapel of the Prussian Crown Prince Frederick in Ruppin, later Rheinsberg. Here he started a public concert series, the 'Friday Academies' which were highly successful and were copied by others. When Frederick was crowned King and moved to Berlin Janitsch continued his 'Friday Academies' there. The concerts were performed by members of the court orchestra and other musicians, both amateur and professional.

The fact that he continued to receive commissions for occasional music bears witness to his excellent reputation. In his days his quartets were especially famous, rated by his colleague Johann Wilhelm Hertel as "the best specimens of the genre". Today it is also his chamber music which is most often performed, although the number of discs entirely devoted to Janitsch is very small. That makes this disc especially interesting, and even more so as it is devoted to the genre of the symphony. The composers of the Berlin School were among the first to write symphonies, usually called 'sinfonia'. They derived their form from the Italian opera overture, with its structure of three movements: fast - slow - fast. They were mostly scored for strings and basso continuo. The addition of wind was rare in the earliest specimens of the genre as only after 1740 wind instruments became a standard part of Frederick's orchestra.

Unfortunately the scoring of the six symphonies which are recorded here is not given in the booklet. That is particularly regrettable as the performers have taken some liberties in this respect. These six symphonies have all been preserved in the archive of the court at Darmstadt where Christoph Graupner was Kapellmeister. In his notes on the interpretation Tobias Bonz writes that the performance practice at the court in Darmstadt has been chosen as the starting point for the interpretation. As he believes Graupner often used flutes and oboes to play colla parte with the strings this is practiced here as well. This seems plausible enough. More questionable is the decision to distribute the upper voice among the violins, the flute and the oboe. This way the various timbres should reinforce the rhetorical character of the musical discourse. I am not convinced of the plausibility of this procedure. And I am not convinced that this is in line with Graupner's performance practice either. As we are not informed about the original scoring it is impossible to say where the scoring has been adapted and exactly in what way. (*)

I would have preferred to hear these symphonies in the scoring as conceived by the composer. Their quality doesn't need to be improved as they are good enough as it is. As one can gather from the track-list these are concise pieces; the second movements are usually the longest. They are quite expressive even though the symphonies are generally written in the galant idiom. The main feature of this style is the importance of melody, and Janitsch certainly knew how to write a beautiful melody. The counterpoint which is present in his chamber music is absent here. The performances are quite good; only in some fast movements a bit more boldness would not have been amiss. The andantes are probably a little too slow, but generally the tempi are wel-chosen.

This is an interesting release which closes a gap in the discography and considerably enhances our knowledge of music life under Frederick the Great. The recording is good, the liner notes are interesting, but unfortunately the English translation leaves much to be desired: some phrases are hardly intelligible. Can't the record company afford a professional translator who has a thorough knowledge of music? In the list of performers the harpsichordist has been left out.

(*) This review has been published some weeks ago on MusicWeb International. Tobias Bonz has informed me that all sinfonias are scored for strings and basso continuo, except the Sinfonias in E flat and in B flat which have written-out parts for two horns. He also believes the distribution of the upper parts to various instruments is in line with Graupner's own practice.

Johan van Veen ( 2011)

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