Johann Ernst Prinz von Sachsen-Weimar: The Complete Violin Concertos / Bach: Harpsichord Transcriptions

Anne Schumann violin, Sebastian Knebel harpsichord, Ensemble “Fürsten-Musik”
cpo 777 998-2
op. 1 & two concertos in G from manuscript + BWV 592a, 982, 987

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]usic formed part of most German princes’ education in the 18th century, but little of their music drew wider attention than that of their respective courts. The very fact that no less than J. S. Bach saw fit to transcribe at least four of Johann Ernst’s concertos for keyboards has given the latter’s music some sort of kudos, and these lively performances by Anne Schumann and the Ensemble “Fürsten-Musik” were the perfect way to mark the 300th anniversary of the prince’s death (2015). Manfred Fechner’s detailed booklet essay tells us that the arrangements were actually made at the young prince’s own request – Bach was then employed as organist in Weimar; Walther, who also made arrangements of concertos for organ, was the prince’s harpsichord teacher! If the opening piece on the programme could have been written by any one of a dozen German imitators of Vivaldi, the second (the fourth of six concertos from the prince’s op. 1 set – engraved by Telemann! how well connected was this ill-fated prince, who would die aged 18, only a few months later…) is in a different league, with a bold, ear-catching opening and plenty of virtuosic display to follow (all of it comfortably despatched by Schumann, of course!), so it is no surprise that it is one of the concertos Bach transcribed (as BWV987). Two other Bach transcriptions (BWV592a and 982) are included on the disc, and a fourth (BWV984, based on another concerto by the prince, whose original version has not survived) is available on the internet. Having heard the music played so stylishly on strings, though, I found the keyboard versions less satisfying. Following the example of one of the manuscript sources, the solo violin is accompanied by two “violini principali” and two “violini ripieni”, who only play in tutti sections. For those who like to know such things, the bottom string parts are played on basse de violon (concertos 1, 4 and 6) or violoncello (the rest) and violone in D (1, 2, 4 and 6) or violone in G (the remainder). The balance is beautifully managed throughout. Yet again, cpo and these enterprising and wondefully talented musicians fill in another vital gap in our knowledge!

Brian Clark

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