The Berlin Album

Ensemble Diderot play music from mid-18th-century Germany

Ensemble Diderot
69:19
Audax Records ADX13726

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Like many others who review the recordings that seem to flow unendingly from Audax Records, I really struggle to find words to match not only the super-stylish performances (which are worth paragraph after paragraph on their own) but also the immaculate recorded sound, the casually informative booklet notes inside the instantly recognisable fold-out covers, and the admirable (and rewarding) desire to seek out truly worthwhile works by composers thus far relegated to the footnotes of musical history that deserve to be better known. In this particular case, alongside relatively well-known composers of the “Berlin school” (G. A. Benda, J. G. Graun, J. G. Janitsch and J. P. Kirnberger) one of the musicians rescued from obscurity is the sister of the Prussian monarch (Frederick “the Great”) who, once his bullying father was out of the way, essentially created the musical scene in his capital – Princess Anna Amalia – and another is Johann Abraham Schulz (both of them were Kirnberger students and therefore very capable contrapuntalists).

What I especially love about this recording is that Ensemble Diderot do not shy away from the cadenzas that are hinted at in the sources but rarely embraced as they are by these performers (including the fortepianist!) The interplay between the two violinists is as electrifying as usual and the continuo team don’t so much support as caress and coax even more energy from them. Of the recent albums with geographical themes, I have by far enjoyed this the most; perhaps because I am a great fan of the repertoire. Rarely, though, have I heard it played so absolutely convincingly – I wonder if Benda and Graun, Janitsch and Kirnberger ever sounded as good!

Brian Clark