by Steve Moffatt on 25 June, 2021
Frederick the Great’s connection with the Bach family is well known – he is thought to have set JS Bach the knotty theme which resulted in A Musical Offering and one of the greatest fugues ever composed. But it wasn’t just the Bach sons CPE and WF who were composing and playing for the Prussian king, as this lovely album by four American early music specialists attests. The ensemble of sisters Augusta (violin) and Georgina McKay Lodge (viola), cellist Eva Lymenstull and harpsichordist David Schulenberg uncover a rich vein of chamber works by four composers.
The collection starts with a lovely trio sonata for violin, viola and continuo by Johann Gottlieb Janitsch, a contraviolinist in Frederick’s Berlin Court Orchestra and founder of the Friday academies in which music was performed by professional and amateur musicians.
Johann Gottlieb Graun is less well-known than his brother Carl Heinrich, but he left a lasting legacy of fine works for violin, an instrument he taught WF Bach to play. He is well represented on this album with a viola sonata, violin sonata and trio sonata, while Carl gets a cello sonata.
Although the brothers were greatly valued at the Berlin court the king’s favourite instrumentalist was violinist Franz Benda, who led the monarch’s private concerts in which Frederick played flute along with his top musicians. A pupil of JG Graun, Benda’s delightful Viola Sonata in C Minor was known only in its violin form until recently.
Beautifully performed, this collection is a delight, especially for lovers of the viola.