Notes and Editorial Reviews
J. C. BACH
Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Continuo: in G,
Warb B 4b;
Warb B 6b;
Warb B 2b;
Warb B 15b.
Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Bass: in e,
Thomas Fritzsch (vdg); Shalev Ad-El
COVIELLO COV 21205 (60:52)
This is a significant release, as these four sonatas by Johann Christian Bach—two with harpsichord and two with pianoforte accompaniment—here receive their world premiere recordings, and are thus important additions to the discography of the “London Bach.” Believed to date from between 1765 and 1772, their whereabouts in private hands remained unknown for over 200 years. They surfaced in 1992 at an auction of music manuscripts at Sotheby’s, where a private collector bought them. In 2008 Thomas Frisch established contact with their new owner, who made copies available to him and granted permission for their public performance, now followed by this recording. Instead of being in the standard three- or four-movement layout, all four works consist of only two movements, all marked
. Stylistically they are model illustrations of the transition from the Baroque to the Classical eras, having accompaniment figurations redolent of the former while embracing the emphasis on balanced structural proportion, symmetrical phrasing, and clarity of melodic line of the latter.
These works are, quite logically, coupled with recordings of two sonatas by Carl Friedrich Abel (1723–87). While it is disputed whether Abel was actually a music pupil of J. S. Bach in his youth (as implied by Charles Burney), his connections to the Bachs became close enough that in 1763 he and Johann Christoph moved into shared lodgings in the fashionable Soho district of London (not Manhattan!). On January 23, 1765, they presented the first of a series of music concerts that soon became the most fashionable musical attraction of the city, and would continue in various guises and locales until the death of Bach on January 1, 1782. The venture had its share of rough spots, including several changes in venue. Moreover, in 1773 Bach moved out of the quarters he and Abel shared after marrying the latter’s onetime mistress, the soprano Cecilia Grassi. Apparently their friendship survived this rather awkward juncture, but the concert series went into decline some years before Bach’s death and accumulated sizeable business debts (£4,000 from Bach alone). Abel promptly left England for a time to raise money through, among other means, a visit to the court of Prussian King Frederick Wilhelm II at the famous Sanssouci Palace. It is believed that the two “Prussian” sonatas on this disc (so called because the manuscripts form part of the collection at the Royal Library of the Berlin Palace) date from this sojourn. While both sonatas have three movements, they rather unusually open with the slow movement and follow that with two faster ones. In compositional style they would have appeared somewhat old-fashioned for their day, harking back to sonatas of the later Baroque rather than following the new trends of the early Classical era as did J. C. Bach’s sonatas, though a degree of
is not absent.
On a side note, Abel also had a valuable set of physical assets that he might have sold to satisfy his creditors, though apparently he did not do so. The great portrait painter Thomas Gainsborough was his longtime pupil for lessons on the harpsichord and viola da gamba. Gainsborough frequently paid Abel (whose portrait he painted at least twice, in addition to one of J. C. Bach) in oil canvases rather than cash, so that Abel came to own the largest collection of Gainsborough paintings in private hands.
While Abel’s two sonatas have each had at least one previous recording, they apparently have not previously been coupled together. The performances of all six sonatas on this disc by viola da gambist Thomas Fritzsch and keyboard accompanist Shalev Ad-El are all top-notch. The recorded sound has a pleasing spaciousness and warmth, and the booklet provides copious and interesting notes on the composers and the history of the Bach manuscripts. For anyone interested in the music of the generation before Haydn and Mozart, this will be an important addition to their collections, and is recommended accordingly.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
Works on This Recording
Sonata in G major for viola da gamba, WKO 149 by Karl Friedrich Abel
Thomas Fritzsch (),
Shalev Ad-El (Piano),
Shalev Ad-El (Harpsichord)
Venue: Rittergut Ermlitz, Belle Etage des Herre
Length: 10 Minutes 6 Secs.
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