Felice Giardini and Johann Christian Bach – more alike than different

The title of this release, “The Courts of Turin and London,”   suggests contrast. It implies a vast difference between the music of Italy and England in the 1760s.

But the liner notes explore the similarities and cultural ties between the two cities. And the two composers represented even more so.

Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782) worked for a while in Milan. He came to London in the 1760s and by 1766 was Master of Music for Queen Charlotte.

Bach and fellow German composer Carl Abel mounted a concert series. It ran for about twenty years and became the tastemaker for British audiences.

Felice Giardini (1716-1796) also spent time in Milan, and also relocated to London in the 1760s. He gave concerts sponsored by J.C. Bach. The two were both colleagues and friends.

L’Astrée presents a selection of chamber works by both composers. Heard side-by-side, there are differences. Bach, the younger composer leans more into the galant style. Melodies are lighter, and harmonies are more transparent.

These are works seldom heard (by either composer). And they’re a real treat. Both men were superb craftsmen. Their music appeals both to the ear and to the intellect.

The musicians of L’Astrée perform with copies of period instruments. That’s a plus because these are the timbres the composers had in mind. So we get a better sense of what Giardini and Bach intended.

There is a minus, though. At times the instruments sounded a little rough. In some passages, the violins were scratchy, which detracted from my enjoyment.

Arianna Zambon (oboe) and Manuel Granatiero (transverse flute), though,  were first-rate. And the sound of Giorgio Tabacco’s clavicembalo was pristine, with near-silent action.

I’m not sure the program supports the premise, but that doesn’t matter.  This is just a fine collection of music that delivers enjoyment time and again.

The Courts of Turin and London
Felice Giardini & Johann Christian Bach
Quartets & Quintets
CPO  555 497–2

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