Johann Gottlieb Janitsch – Sonatas & Ouverture grosso – Rediscoveries from the Sara Levy collection [Tempesta di Mare & Philadelphia Baroque; Chandos Chaconne]

4 of 5 stars

Sonatas – from Opp.3, 4, 6 & 7
Ouverture grosso in G

Tempesta di Mare
Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra [Gwyn Roberts & Richard Stone (directors); Emlyn Ngai (concertmaster)]

Recorded March & May 2017 in Gould Recital Hall, Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: February 2018
CHAN 0820
Duration: 67 minutes



Johann Gottlieb Janitsch (1708-c.1762/63) has been rather consigned to a footnote in musical history, perhaps overshadowed by such other musicians who worked alongside him in Berlin at the court of Frederick the Great as C. P. E. Bach or Johann Quantz. If Janitsch is known at all, it is for the collections of Sonatas and Quartets which he composed for the chamber concerts he regularly organised. There is little difference between the two genres, though the Sonatas follow the older format of either da camera or da chiesa which composers since at least Corelli had cultivated. They adopt the up-to-date galant style, but in form they stand in the same vein as Telemann’s pioneering ‘Paris’ Quartets – if lacking their degree of vigour and inventiveness – and could be read as adding one further melodic line to the established format of the Trio-Sonata (two melody instruments plus continuo).

The members of Tempesta di Mare amply demonstrate the music’s well-crafted charm in four Sonatas, each taken from a different collection, and returning to the manuscript sources from an archive that once belonged to Sara Levy, the great-aunt of Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn. In the A-minor Sonata from Opus Seven, the limpid, watery-sounding flute interweaves seamlessly with the violin, viola and continuo, though at times certain chromatic turns of phrase could have more bite. That is better achieved in the D-minor Sonata from Opus 3, which features two flutes and violin, and whose chromatic melody is somewhat reminiscent at one point of J. S. Bach’s Musical Offering, and otherwise no criticism can be levelled against the well-ordered and balanced texture the players create in this contrapuntal but disciplined music, occasionally given an appropriate lilt. A pristine, glistening veneer by Emlyn Ngai on violin, in particular during the E-flat Sonata (from Opus Six), brightens the quality as necessary.

The G-minor Sonata from Opus Four – probably Janitsch’s best-known work – came to be known as the ‘Passion Quartet’ on account of its third movement being based upon the Passiontide chorale ‘O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden’, familiar from J. S. Bach’s Passion settings. It seems to have been written as an elegy on the death of the composer’s daughter, and sustains a subdued, doleful tone, with its mellow scoring for flute and two violas. The opening movement is taken a tad too briskly for its Largo and Mestoso markings, such that insufficient contrast is drawn with the succeeding Allegretto. Gwyn Roberts on flute sounds reticent in intoning the chorale theme, and one might wish for more plangent fervour, but it is in keeping with the controlled character of Tempesta di Mare’s performances throughout. This affecting third movement is otherwise beautifully mournful in effect.

The issue is rounded out with the G-major Ouverture grosso for double orchestra, pitting Tempesta di Mare against the larger Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra in this hybrid of a French Overture and a Concerto grosso. In the carefree abandon of the ensembles’ brisk rendition, drama is brought about by pushing on in the fugal sections of the Alla breve sections.

Recordings by Il Gardellino and Epoca Barocca provide just as lively a selection of different Sonatas by Janitsch, but this Chandos release offers a serene and readily available introduction to the composer, which illuminates the era between the high Baroque of Bach and Handel and the Classicism of Haydn and Mozart.

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