Many of the musicians who were at the service of
Frederick the Great were or have become rather well-known: Carl Philipp
Emanuel Bach, Johann Joachim Quantz, the Graun brothers and the Bendas.
Their compositional output is well represented on disc. Others have
remained in their shadow, and one of them is Johann Gottlieb Janitsch.
That makes the series of recordings by the Notturna ensemble especially
worthwhile. This is the third volume; I haven't heard the previous discs,
but the first was reviewed here
by Glyn Pursglove.
Janitsch was born in Schweidnitz in Silesia - now Swidnica in Poland
- and studied the bass viol. After having been a law student in Frankfurt
an der Oder, where he also played a major role in local musical life,
he joined the chapel of Frederick, 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
. It is likely
that his chamber music was written for performance at these concerts
in which both professional and amateur players participated. When Frederick
became King of Prussia and moved his court to Berlin, Janitsch continued
his Friday academies there.
He was especially famous for his quartets; his colleague Johann Wilhelm
Hertel considered them "the best specimens of the genre". They were
models of countrapuntal technique; this form also frequently appears
in the oeuvre of Telemann and Fasch. Like Telemann Janitsch seems to
have had a liking for unusual combinations of instruments. The Sonata
in B flat, op. 3,1
and the Sonata in c minor, op. 7,5
both scored for oboe, violin, viola and bc. The use of the viola is
especially notable; there is also a quartet with two viola parts. It
should be mentioned here that in music of this period parts for the
viola and the viola da gamba were often interchangeable. That had everything
to do with the fact that the viola da gamba was gradually disappearing
from the music scene. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, for instance, wrote
a sonata with versions for viola and viola da gamba. These alternatives
are also given in the Sonata in D, op. 5,1
. In his liner-notes
Christopher Palameta suggests that this part may have been written for
the famous gambist Ludwig Christian Hesse, a member of the court orchestra
since 1741. That is certainly a possibility, but as Janitsch was educated
as a gambist, he may have played this part himself.
These quartets comprise three movements, ordered according to the taste
of the time: slow - fast - fast. Their contrapuntal character is the
link with the rich German tradition which we also find in the quartets
of Telemann and Fasch. The second movement of the Sonata in c minor,
is a fugue, and includes a pedal point for the oboe. The
instruments are treated on equal terms, although there are passages
with a dialogue between one and two, for instance between the oboe and
the two flutes in the Sonata in G
. The popularity of Janitsch's
quartets is reflected in the fact that a number of them have been preserved
in various copies. These often have different scorings which bears witness
to the common habit of adapting a piece to the instruments available.
The Sonata in C, op. 1,5
also exists in a version with bassoon
instead of cello. Here the latter option has been chosen. "We saw it
fit to underpin the tender and innocent character of the opening Larghetto
in our performance by using pizzicato in the continuo
line", Palameta writes. I am not sure that this was the right decision;
to my mind the continuo cello makes itself too present when played pizzicato.
It may have been better to perform this piece without a cello in the
basso continuo. After all, there is no reason to assume that a string
bass was needed or was always used.
That said, I have generally enjoyed these performances. They are technically
accomplished interpretations which is worth noting as some parts seem
quite demanding. The ensemble is excellent, and the performers have
a good sense of rhythmic pulse. I could imagine some stronger dynamic
shading and a sharper 'attack', for instance in the string parts. Even
so, I am very grateful that Notturna shed light on Janitsch's oeuvre
as he turns out to be a composer of highly original and compelling chamber
music. I hope that this disc is not the last in this project.
Johan van Veen