BACH, J.C.: Sinfonias, Vol. 2 (Budapest Camerata/ Hanspeter Gmur) (Naxos: 8.553084)
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Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782)
Sinfonia Op. 6
Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of the great Thomascantor Johann Sebastian, was born on 5th September 1735 in Leipzig. Known from the most important periods of his career either as the Milan Bach or the London Bach, he owed his musical education either directly to his father, or at least to his supervision. After the latter's death in 1750 he moved to Berlin, where his brother Carl Philipp Emanuel, 21 years his elder, undertook his further training. In common with many other musicians he was attracted by Italy, where he moved in 1756, becoming a pupil in Bologna of the then most distinguished music theorist Padre Martini, who later gave lessons to Mozart. After conversion to Catholicism he was appointed organist at Milan cathedral, soon after turning his attention to opera and consequently to the Italian form of symphony. In 1762 Bach move finally to London, where he won success as a composer of opera and as music-master to Her Majesty Queen Sophie Charlotte of England, enjoying high favour at court. In 1764 with the composer and viola da gamba virtuoso Carl Friedrich Abel he founded the Bach-Abel Concerts, which from 1775 took place in the famous Hanover Square Rooms. In the same year came the important meeting with the eight-year-old Mozart, who visited London with his father and played for him. Johann Christian was an unrivalled exponent of the galant style and exercised a strong influence on the musical development of the young Mozart, an example that it is possible to trace in the latter's later work. As his star had risen like a comet in the middle of the eighteenth century, so quickly did his fame decline at the beginning of the 1780s. In May 1781 he gave his last concert in London. Now financial and health problems compelled him more and more to withdraw into private life. He died in straitened circumstances in London on 1st January 1782. Mozart gave moving expression to his sorrow in a letter, writing of the great loss to the musical world.
Known respectively as Giovanni or John, Bach left some sixty symphonies as well as twenty concertante symphonies for one or more solo instruments, not counting thirty solo fortepiano or harpsichord concertos. Evidence of his fame is seen in the numerous publications of his instrumental compositions in his own life-time, in particular of his symphonies. These are, except for one and a doubtful example, in three movements, in the form developed from the Italian opera-symphony (fast - slow - fast) and used by Bach in the overtures to his operas. The gift for thematic invention inherited from his father, under Italian influence transformed into singing, lyrical material, his understanding of form giving rise to a new school of composition, subtle feeling for colour and for formal clarity, harmony and thematic contrast are all characteristics of his musical style. Opera-symphonies with Bach turned more and more into concert symphonies, culminating in the six late symphonies of Opus 18, three of which are for double orchestra. It is true that he never reached the blessed profundity of Mozart, nor did he seek to. There are, however, in his music many examples of directly affecting feeling, particularly evident in the C minor middle movements. The so-called singing allegro, the cantabile style and full string sound makes its appearance also in the fast movements, and, with the handling of the woodwind, had a strong influence on Mozart. In general the woodwind instruments that up to that time had for the most part doubled the strings, two oboes or flutes, a pair of French horns and the traditional instrument to reinforce the bass, the bassoon, increasingly took independent parts. If comparison is made between Mozart's early symphonies and those of Bach, an astonishing correspondence can be seen. Nowhere are there such seamless connections and such an interweaving of elements. Brightness, freedom from sorrow, joy in living and above all a charming amiability inform Bach's symphonies, which are a clear expression of his time. If also fully conceding to the taste of the period - and Bach well understood what pleased - his writing never slid into the banal or the purely superficial. The profound, the reflective or dry academic rhetoric will be sought here in vain.
The six Sinfonias, Opus 6, published about 1770 by Hummel in Amsterdam, must have been written during Bach's first years in London and first performed in the Bach-Abel Concerts established in 1764. The stile galant forged in Opus 3 undergoes in these symphonies, similarly in three movements, a broader refinement in form, treatment and orchestral writing. The woodwind instruments, for example, again two oboes, replaced by flutes in some middle movements, two horns and the traditional accompaniment of the bass-line, the bassoon, play an increasingly free and soloistic part. The so-called Mannheim crescendo is fully understood, a crescendo extending over several bars applied as a new stylistic feature, as, for example, in Sinfonias Nos. 2, 3 and 5. That Bach, contrary to widespread prejudice, is capable of great expressiveness, is shown once more in the serene middle movements, in particular, perhaps, the magic C minor movement of Opus 6, No.5, with its fascinating change between the dark-coloured divisi violas and the bright pair of oboes. The developments are consistently worked out, for example in No.5. Completely within the scope of galant instrumental art is the dramatic and stormy Sinfonias No.6 in G minor, evidence of a Sturm und Drang phase in Bach's work. As in the G minor Symphony of Mozart and in early Haydn, there is in Bach too a strongly subjective expression of feeling, with harsh dissonances and strong dynamic contrasts in the fast movements. In Sinfonias No.2 and Sinfonias No.4 contrast of colour is provided by the use of a pair of flutes instead of oboes in the middle movements.
(English translation by Keith Anderson)
The Camerata Budapest was founded by a group of young musicians in 1989. Triumph in the Padua Chamber Music Festival led to international tours and consistent critical acclaim. The ensemble is led by Ildiko Line, a distinguished chamber music player and concert-master of the Hungarian Radio Orchestra. The present release is one of the ensemble's three J. C. Bach Sinfonia recordings, their first for Naxos.
Hanspeter Gmür was born in the Swiss town of St. Gallen and since 1980 has served as City Music Director in Friedrichshafen. He had his early musical training as a chorister at the Foundation School of the great monastery of Einseideln, before going on to the Conservatory in Lucerne and then in Munich. He had his first success in 1953, at the age of nineteen, as founder and conductor of the Collegium Musicum Lucerne, proceeding thereafter to a series of conducting engagements and subsequent appointment as Director of the City Opera in Klagenfurt. He has made a number of recordings, in particular with the Swiss Camerata Rhenania, which he founded. He enjoys an active career as a conductor throughout Europe and has been honoured by St. Gallen with the town's Culture Advancement Award.