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Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782)
Symphonie Concertante in G major for 2 violins, cello and orchestra (c. 1772)
Symphonie Concertante in E flat for 2 clarinets, bassoon and orchestra (c. 1772)A
Symphonie Concertante in A major for violin, cello and orchestra (c. 1773)
Symphonie Concertante in E flat for 2 violins, 2 violas, 2 oboes, 2 horns and cello ‘Concerto’ (c. 1772)
London Festival Orchestra/Ross Pople
rec. Watford Town Hall, England, 22-23 June 1987 and 6 July 1988.A DDD

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The London Festival Orchestra was established in 1980 when Ross Pople, then principal cellist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, gathered some of London’s finest musicians to create his own orchestra. The popularity of the orchestra grew and Pople left the BBCSO to become the LFO’s full-time Director.

Johann Christian Bach was the eleventh son of the great master Johann Sebastian Bach and the youngest to live to maturity. He received his early musical instruction with his father and, after 1750, with his half-brother Carl Philipp Emanuel, who was 21 years his senior. In 1754, Johann Christian went to Italy, where his teachers included Padre Martini of Bologna. In Milan he was made Cathedral organist in 1760 where he became known as the ‘Milan’ Bach.

In 1762, Johann Christian became known as the ‘London’ Bach when he entered the service of Queen Charlotte, the wife of the English monarch George III. It was while he was music master to the Queen that Johann Christian met and instructed the young Mozart, in 1764. Many scholars judge him to be one of the most important influences on Mozart, who learned from him how to produce brilliant and attractive surface texture in his music. Johann Christian’s works include symphonies, concertos, chamber works, piano pieces, sacred works and thirteen operas.

Musicologist Ernest Warburton has painstakingly compiled a list of Johann Christian Bach’s Symphonies and Symphonies Concertantes which provides a useful numbering system. The Symphonie Concertante is a mixture of the Symphony and the Concerto but for more than one soloist. Warburton has discovered that Johann Christian wrote eighteen of them. Only four of these follow the French galante two-movement layout. Most close with a minuet or some other mellow movement. All eighteen display the melodic style of the Mannheim-Paris Symphonie Concertante, whose popularity spread to England. They were written during the 1770s and represent the English School of the late eighteenth century. Generally, Johann Christian’s accompanying orchestra would consist of two oboes, or flutes, two horns and strings.

In three movements the Symphonie Concertante in G major is a joyous work seeming to hark back to the Mediterranean sunshine of his Italian years. Johann Christian composed the three movement E flat work for the unusual combination of two clarinets, a bassoon and orchestra. Arguably his most popular Symphonie Concertante is the A major score for violin, cello and orchestra, that was published in 1773. It comprises two easy-going movements and is the most intimate of all the works here. The Symphonie Concertante in E flat for pairs of violins, violas, oboes and horns with a cello is titled as a ‘Concerto’ in the undated manuscript score.

These charming and frequently enjoyable works can occasionally seem lacking in variety and sometimes feel overlong. However, Ross Pople, the soloists and players of the LFO are completely at home in these delightful early Classic-period scores. The soloists’ fluent playing is as smooth as silk and most compelling. I was most impressed with their security of ensemble and the appealing timbre of the velvety woodwind and silvery-toned strings.

The recording is first class and the overall balance is good. The adequate booklet notes are reasonably informative. High quality performances of attractive works. Worth exploring.

Michael Cookson




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