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rec: Jan 2018, Potsdam-Sanssouci, Friedenskirche
TXYart - TXA18106 (© 2019) (73'31")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788): 12 Kleine Stücke (Wq 81 / H 600) (Allegro; Polonoise; Presto); Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Sonata for keyboard and viola da gamba in g minor (BWV 1029); Sonata for organ in d minor (BWV 527); Johann Gottlieb JANITSCH (1708-1763): Sonata for organ in d minor; John Christopher PEPUSCH (1687-1752): Sonata No. 3 for violin, viola da gamba and bc in a minor*; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Sonata for organ in D; Sonata for recorder, viola da gamba and bc in F (TWV 42,F3)*
All the pieces, except *, are arrangements by tr!jo

Tabea Debus, recorder; Lea Rahel Bader, viola da gamba; Johannes Lang, harpsichord, organ

This disc is devoted to the art of arrangement, widespread in the baroque era. It is often associated with George Frideric Handel, one of the most notorious arrangers of music by colleagues from past and present, and of pieces from his own pen. Johann Sebastian Bach also frequently arranged music which he had written earlier. Among the best known specimens are his secular cantatas, some of which he turned into sacred music, and his harpsichord concertos, which are adaptations of pieces for other scorings. He figures prominently on the present disc, with two sonatas. The other main composer included here is his colleague Georg Philipp Telemann, who seems to have been more restrained in the practice of arranging.

The programme opens with a Sonata in D for organ by the latter. This is a bit of a mystery as I have not been able to find any organ sonata in the Telemann catalogue. The track-list also does not give a catalogue number, and as a result we are left in the dark as far as the identity of this piece is concerned. The fact that, according to the liner-notes, it "bears none of the features of 'typical' organ writing", suggests that this work itself may be an arrangement of a piece which was originally intended for instruments, just as it is played here. Notable in this sonata with four movements is the chromaticism in the third, with the indication andante.

In contrast, the oeuvre of Johann Gottlieb Janitsch does include some organ sonatas. He is one of the lesser-known figures from the mid-18th century, whose oeuvre enjoys a growing interest from performers. He was educated at the bass viol. After having been a law student in Frankfurt an der Oder, where he also played a major role in local music life, he joined the chapel of Frederick the Great, then still Crown Prince of Prussia, in Ruppin, later Rheinsberg. It is here that he started a series of weekly concerts on Fridays, the Freitagsakademie. In this sonata the Empfindsamkeit and the galant idiom come together.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach may well have performed some of his own music at the concerts of the Freitagsakademie. Here he is represented with three pieces from a collection of little pieces for transverse flute or violin and keyboard. In this case little arrangement is needed; it is mostly that the line-up is sometimes a bit different from what the composer indicated, and that includes the use of a recorder, an instrument which was becoming obsolete in his days.

The odd man out in this programme is Johann Christoph [John Christopher] Pepusch. He is of an earlier generation than the other composers, and although he was of German birth, he made a career in England where he settled sometime at the end of the 17th century. There he played a major role in music life, for instance in the musical theatre. He left a considerable oeuvre of vocal and instrumental music. The Sonata in a minor was originally scored for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo. According to the liner-notes the violin part does not need much adaptation in order to be playable at the recorder. It seems quite possible that Pepusch took into account the popularity of the recorder among amateurs in England and largely avoided elements which would make this part hard to play on the recorder. The fact that he is of an older generation than Telemann and Janitsch comes to the fore in the prominent role of counterpoint in this sonata, especially in the first two movements. The third seems to reflect Pepusch's activities in the theatre.

The disc ends with the only piece that is not arranged in some way. Telemann's Sonata in F is part of the collection Essercizii Musici which includes sonatas of different scorings and textures. Here we meet Telemann in his love of scorings for instruments of different tessitura, here the recorder and the viola da gamba. This is a frequent combination in his oeuvre.

These two instruments are not strictly equal: because of its sound, the recorder is the most prominent partner in such pieces. Obviously Telemann was aware of that, and took that into account. In his Sonata in F the viola da gamba is given several moments to shine, when the recorder takes a back seat. Telemann also explores the upper register of the viola da gamba, where it is more clearly noticeable than when it moves in the lower part of its tessitura.

Things are a little different in the arrangements, such as Bach's two sonatas. In the six trio sonatas for organ the three parts are treated on strictly equal terms. In this line-up, though, the recorder, playing the right hand part of the organ, is overshadowing the viola da gamba, which performes the left hand of the organ part and therefore is mostly exploring its middle register. The same is the case in the Sonata in g minor, which was originally for viola da gamba and obligato keyboard. Here the viola da gamba plays the original part, whereas the recorder takes care of the right hand of the keyboard. It is no surprise that Telemann's original sonata for this line-up comes off best.

However, this is only a minor issue. Overall these are very fine performances by three excellent young artists from Germany whom I have heard before in different ensembles and programmes. They present here a compelling programme of nice music which is well up to repeated listening. The inclusion of pieces by Janitsch and Pepusch is especially praiseworthy, as they don't receive the attention they deserve. Their qualities are convincingly demonstrated here. I am looking forward to future recordings of these players who seem to have presented themselves as an ensemble for the first time. Tr!jo is well worth keeping an eye on.

On a technical note: the documentation should have been better, not only with regard to the identity of Telemann's organ sonata. The three pieces by CPE Bach should also have been specified with their key and the number in the collection catalogued as H 600. The dates of life and death of Janitsch on the backside of the disc are incorrect.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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