Notes and Editorial Reviews
Janitsch turns out to be a composer of highly original and compelling chamber music.
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 are 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, op. 7,5 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 alla Siciliana 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, MusicWeb International
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