Frederick the Great: Music for the Berlin Court = GRAUN: Overture and Allegro; Concerto for Viola da gamba; NICHELMANN: Concerto for Cembalo Concertante; FREDERICK THE GREAT: Traverse Flute Sonata “for Potsdam”, No. 190; CPE BACH: Symphony No. 1, WQ 183, 1 – Academy for Old Music – Harmonia mundi HMC 902132, 73:50 ***:
Even before Frederick II became emperor he was engaged in many activities designed to raise the level of culture in Berlin and its environs. His father, the ”Soldier King”, had done a lot to reduce the number of musical activities to a bare minimum, but Frederick was determined to reverse this trend, employing many noted composers like Johann Graun and CPE Bach, and taking extensive flute lessons from Johann Quantz. He is said to have uttered himself: “I have become a composer”.
When he finally reached the throne he undertook a massive, renaissance-like revamping of the entire cultural atmosphere in his court, bolstering the court orchestra, rebuilding the opera house, hiring many new composers and encouraging the formation of many amateur ensembles that eventually made their way into the public light. This disc sets out to honor his memory in a way, offering a variety of music that was penned by composers influential in the Prussian court. Johann Graun is one of the earliest arrivals. He wrote a number of two movement overtures, and at least five gamba concertos, of which the A-minor one is offered here. I must say that these are not the best works I have heard by Graun, certainly skilled and virtuosic, but lacking the last degree of melodic inspiration that is characteristic of his other music. Jan Freiheit plays with passionate authority.
Christoph Nichelmann was a student in Leipzig where he actually spent three years studying with J.S. Bach. He ended up at the court as harpsichordist and became a colleague of CPE Bach; though 10 years later for reasons unknown he left that employ to become a private teacher. His Cembalo Concerto, played here by fortepianist Raphael Alpermann, straddles the world of baroque and classical models, though his melodic vision as not as strong as some other composers of the era. The King himself was, as mentioned, an accomplished flute player, and left at least 100 sonatas, mostly of the slow-fast-faster model. He was not a great composer, and even the thoroughly perfectionist playing of Christoph Huntgeburth cannot make up for lack of creativity on the composer’s part.
CPE Bach came to the court in 1738 but did not last there, getting treatment that was not as optimal as some of his colleagues. The symphony offered here is head and shoulders above anything else on this disc in quality, and strangely enough was written years later after he had left the court, the first in a series of four extraordinary pieces. The performance here is rabidly driven, completely losing all the wonderful moments that so makes this piece a favorite.
This is not a bad collection but there are many better ones. Nice idea, but mostly mediocre music. Sound is very good though.
Live premiere recording of Bruckner’s 1881-1884 Urtext Edition, 7th Symphony