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REVIEW
RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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JOHANN ERNST Prinz von Sachsen-Weimar (1696-1715)
The Complete Violin Concertos for Violin, Strings and Bass Continuo
Concerto V in E Major (op.1) [7.04]
Concerto IV in D Minor (op.1) [5.41]
Concerto [VII] in G Major [7.38]
Concerto III in E Minor (op.1) [5.45]
Concerto I in B Major (op.1) [7.25]
Concerto II in A Minor (op.1) [10.08]
Concerto [VIII] in G Major [5.55]
Concerto VI in G Major (op.1) [7.04]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concertos for Harpsichord after Johann Ernst Prinz von Sachsen-Weimar
Concerto in D Minor (BWV 987) [6.08]
Concerto in B Major (BWV 982) [7.58]
Concerto in G Major (BWV 592a) [6.39]
Anne Schumann (violin/director)
Sebastian Knebel (harpsichord)
Ensemble ‘Fürsten-Musik’
rec. St. Bartholomäus-Kirche, Blankenburg (Harz) (Johann Ernst), 18-20 August 2014, Orchesterprobensaal des MDR, Leipzig (Bach), 16-17 December 2014.
CPO 777 998-2 [77:41]

For any lover of Bach, this release is a wonderful discovery. Johann Ernst Prinz von Sachsen-Weimar is hardly a name much known today, but Bach thought his work worth arranging, both for harpsichord, as here, but also in transcriptions for organ.

Johann Ernst Prinz von Sachsen-Weimar died at 18, from cancer. He was a virtuoso violinist but clearly also a gifted and original composer. The ducal court of Weimar had its own orchestra, of about 14 musicians. From 1711 until 1713, Johann Ernst studied in Amsterdam where he was deeply impressed by Italian instrumental concertos. Amsterdam was a centre of musical culture as so much music was published there – including Vivaldi’s L’estro armonico in 1711. The violin concertos appear to date from his last months, when gravely ill. Little in their Italianate style indicates the dying composer, though there are moments in some slow movements, such as the Largo of Concerto II which touch on the melancholy of living. The movement is also exquisitely beautiful. The importance of Johann Ernst’s work is not simply his compositions — of which there were 19 instrumental pieces — but the encouragement he gave to the development of the instrumental concerto in Europe.

Bach was not merely a fellow composer but a friend. On the Third Sunday after Trinity in 1717, the cantata Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (BWV 21) was performed as Bach’s personal gift to Johann Ernst. This would be the last religious service the young composer would attend in the Weimar castle church.

The relationship with Bach was not the only significant one. The six violin concertos of Opus 1. were prepared for publication by Telemann, and were printed in Frankfurt.

The value of this CD is that we hear more than the Bach transcriptions – these are set alongside the violin concertos themselves. Johann Ernst’s pieces are not of merely historical interest. They are tuneful, splendidly constructed, with neat turns of phrase. Most movements are brief; some, such as the final movement of Concerto III, only a minute long. Final movements are generally brief.

Performances and recording are both excellent. There is no sense that the concertos have been treated as mere preludes to the Bach arrangements. They are realized as the imaginative and original works they are. Annette Schumann is described as primus inter pares as soloist, playing with an even tone, clearly relishing the opportunities offered in this music. The Ensemble ‘Fürsten-Musik’, a group of eight or nine players perform with a keen sense of rhythm and ensemble. Performances are very much in period and historically informed.

Recording quality in both venues is excellent.

This is a wonderful discovery, to which I shall return often.

Michael Wilkinson






 




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