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Download: Chandos


Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782)
Overture: Adriana in Siria [6:47]
Symphony for Double Orchestra in E flat, Op.18/1 (1779?) [13:49]
Symphony in g minor, Op.6/6 (not later than 1769) [15:01]
Sinfonia Concertante in C, T289/4 (1775?) (ed. Richard Maunder) [18:50]
Symphony in D, Op.18/4 (1772, revised later) [10:54]
The Academy of Ancient Music/Simon Standage
rec. Blackheath Concert Halls, London SE3, 8-10 January 1993.  DDD.
Reissued with all details as above:
mp3 CHAN0713
LOSSLESS CHAN0713W [65:10]
Experience Classicsonline

As part of their policy of keeping older recordings available, Chandos offer this J C Bach programme as a download under its original catalogue number and also as a CD or download under its reissued number.  The mp3 version costs £6 in either version, so it is immaterial which version you choose, but there is a distinct price advantage in choosing the new catalogue number for the lossless version; in this form it costs £8 as against an illogical £10 for the older listing.  Whichever version you choose to download, both booklets are available free online; most will find the cover of the new booklet, an 18th-century painting of Covent Garden, more attractive – apart from the typo (Sinfonie concertante for the correct Sinfonia, as elsewhere in the booklet – what a shame that the typo is on the cover).

Having found Chandos’s mp3 downloads, even those offered at the lower bit-rate of 192kbps, more than acceptable, I decided to sample the lossless version of this recording.  This is offered in wma, wav and aiff formats; the last named being compatible with the ipod.  I chose the wma version, the smallest in size at around 300MB, and the fastest to download.  The result was more than satisfactory, fully commensurate with CD quality – and, yes, I think there is some advantage to spending an extra £2 on this over the mp3, though it actually makes the download a penny dearer than Chandos’s price for the CD.  Bear in mind that some suppliers offer these Chandos reissues at around £6.50-£7. 

J C Bach tends to be overshadowed by the huge achievements of his father and the considerable achievement of his half brother C P E Bach, but I cannot imagine anyone who likes Haydn or Mozart being disappointed with their purchase of this music by the greatest of all their immediate predecessors, in whatever format.  The only significant competition comes from the numerous (excellent) CDs of J C’s music from CPO. 

Adriana in Siria was JC’s third opera after he had settled in London.  It is likely that Mozart, whom JC befriended on his visit to London, heard it there, since either he or his father Leopold wrote a set of variations on the aria Cara, la dolce fiamma.  The three-movement overture is a symphony in all but name, well worth hearing and a fine opening to the recording, in such a sympathetic performance.  The sprightly first movement leads to a truly charming andante and a lively finale.  Sadly, the opera itself was not a success, probably as a result of the spoiling tactics of a claque. 

If you like Haydn’s Sturm und Drang Symphonies, you will find Op.6/6 in g particularly appealing.  J.C. Bach did not initiate the craze for Sturm und Drang - the initial impulse came from the early writings of Goethe - but he was a master of the style and this fine work was probably the model for Haydn’s Symphony No.39 and Mozart’s No.25, both in that key; it can stand comparison with either of those works.  It receives a sympathetic and enjoyable performance here – perhaps just a shade too detached for those who like their Sturm und Drang strong and emotional. 

The first movement makes a powerful statement from the start in a lively performance which could have been just a shade more forceful.  The affective power of the slow movement is well brought out, but not laboured.  This, the longest movement of the work by a considerable margin, carries its emotional weight with thoughts that often lie too deep for tears.  The stormy finale is especially well performed. 

The Op.18 works were published as a set of six at about the time of J.C.’s death, three works for single and three for double orchestra.  Though described by the publisher, Forster, as ‘Grand Overtures’, they are more correctly classified as symphonies in three movements.  Forster was a notoriously lax publisher and the performances here were considerably – and convincingly – edited by Richard Maunder. 

Op.18/1 also begins powerfully, though the first movement as a whole is lively rather than profound; the performance exactly matches the direction, spiritoso.  The second movement is marked andante; the performance certainly matches that direction, but the forward motion is maintained at the expense of the potential affective power of the music.  The rousing account of the final allegro, however, more than makes amends.  The brilliantly written Op.18/4 also receives a good performance. 

The least interesting work here is the Sinfonia concertante for flute, oboe, violin and cello – hardly in the same league as Mozart’s two works with that title, but, even so, well worth hearing.  Like everything here it receives a sympathetic performance, with Simon Standage himself taking the violin part. 

The recording is a trifle reverberant but I was not troubled by this.  The list of performers in the booklet includes Ian Watson on the harpsichord, to little effect, I fear, since he is mostly inaudible.   The continuo should not be over-prominent but it should be (just) audible.  Otherwise the Blackheath Concert Halls are one of Chandos’s favourite recording venues and the engineers achieve an especially good sense of stereo placement, especially in the work for double orchestra. 

The booklet, with notes by Richard Maunder, is most informative.  The photograph of the Academy cannot have been taken at these recording sessions, as it includes a theorbo, not employed or needed for J.C. Bach. 

This is a very appealing recording of music by a composer who is still not generously represented in the catalogue.

Brian Wilson



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