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GRAMOPHONE (01/2021)
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Reviewer: Charlotte Gardner

With London, Paris and Dresden already dispatched with style, Berlin is the next stop for Johannes Pramsohler’s plauditgarnering Cities series. Plus, as one might expect from a research project whose constant theme has been the fresh angles it’s thrown on periods we thought we all knew, the Berlin snapshot it presents is not the usual one of King Frederick and his flute at his Potsdam court. Instead, it’s how the talent Frederick assembled there bled out into the city at large, creating a vibrant professional chamber music scene that filled not just the other royal and wealthy residences with music but also a weekly public concert series organised by Frederick’s double bassist, Johann Gottlieb Janitsch. This marked the beginnings of the shift away from a court music scene to a bourgeois one; the subsequent creation of Berlin’s own ‘sensitive style’, which took the prevailing galant style further with its spinning of expressive melodies over a slowed down harmonic rhythm; and consequently, the city’s swift uptake of the newly developed fortepiano, with its ability to realise the wide dynamic range of this sensitive style. As another consequence, the trio sonata flourished with an especially idiosyncratic sound and language for its various instruments (ie switchings between violin, flute and oboe were rare), meaning this album features just the central core of Ensemble Diderot: Pramsohler with fellow violinist Roldán Bernabé, supported by cellist Gulrim Choï and Philippe Grisvard on harpsichord and fortepiano.

On to the content, and it’s hard to single out highlights when the programme is not only built almost entirely of premiere recordings – there’s one exception – but also performed with such multicoloured finesse. That said, be sure to keep your ears especially peeled throughout Janitsch’s Trio Sonata in G – a work far beyond the technical reaches of the average amateur musician with its seventh-position passagework, over which Pramsohler and Bernabé are exquisite as they lightly curl their slender lines around each other, set off further by the lovely overall balance between all four musicians. Likewise, there’s the close duetting and expressivity their violins bring to Melancholicus & Sanguineus, the musical conversation between two contrasting characters penned by Frederick’s opera orchestra concertmaster, Johann Gottlieb Graun, which served as the model for CPE Bach’s own famous Sanguineus & Melancholicus. Or, if you want to admire what a sensitive and superglued unit Choï and Grisvard are, it’s particularly pleasurable to pick out their underpinnings over Johann Abraham Schultz’s Trio Sonata in A minor, for which Grisvard is on a reconstruction of a special Gottfried Silbermann fortepiano whose ivory strips hitting the strings mimic the sound of a dulcimer. In short, another city to savour.

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