JANITSCH Rediscoveries from the Sara Levy Collection
The Berlin composer Johann Gottlieb Janitsch (1708-c1762) occasionally catches the ear on anthologies of music from the court of Frederick the Great but only in recent years has he begun to have releases devoted entirely to him, and this is the first to have come my way. A double-bassist, he was one of the original members of the small band Prince Frederick formed in the 1730s and which also included JG Graun, Georg Benda and CPE Bach. When Frederick became king in 1740, Janitsch stayed with him until his own death.
One might expect, then, that his music would speak the refined but nervy North German expressive language we associate today with CPE Bach. So it does; but while the four sonatas recorded here – all ‘quadros’ for three instruments and continuo – may not match Bach at his most intense, they are more than just a shadow. Not only is the writing fluent and assured but it has a personal character of its own, not so much perhaps in the outbreaks of instrumental recitative in the E flat Sonata, but in the tender cradling of the chorale ‘O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden’ in the G minor (written in memory of Janitsch’s daughter) or the atmospheric opening movement of the A minor Sonata, that hint at the ineffable emotional eloquency of CPE’s great father.
Tempesta di Mare catch the mood of these moments, and their playing is stylish in polish and detailing. There is energy, too, in some of the faster fugal movements but I wish they could have summoned more in the moderate-tempo ones. Frankly there are times when things flag, and I can well imagine this music performed more compellingly. Neither is the sense of flow helped by a balance that, while clear, is somewhat close and dry (this is especially hard on the violin). Thankfully, an enlarged ensemble ramps it up at the end for a double-orchestra Ouverture grosso that is just what it says it is, a joyful hotchpotch of movements and styles that could almost be a lost symphony by Boyce.