Jacob Friedrich Kleinknecht (1722-1794)
Trio sonatas for two flutes and basso continuo
Trio sonata in G (Ms 238)
Trio sonata in G, Op 2,1
Trio sonata in G minor, Op 2,2
Trio sonata in D, Op 2,3
Trio sonata in C
Ensemble La Cantonnade
rec. 2019, Recording Hall/Studio 1, Cap à pie Studios, Neutraubling, Germany
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download with pdf booklet from Naxos
TYXart TXA19126 
Today, the German town Bayreuth is indissolubly connected with the name Richard Wagner. However, it was a centre of music in the mid-18th century too. That was largely due to Wilhelmine, sister of Frederick the Great of Prussia. In 1731 she married Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth. Whereas her brother was a fanatical player of the transverse flute, she played the lute, and was active as a singer, composer and painter. It was rather the Margrave, who was a skilled flautist, and Jakob Friedrich Kleinknecht, whose music is the subject of the present disc, who may have partnered him in his own trio sonatas for two flutes. The court also saw regular opera performances. The climate was such that Kleinknecht’s brother Johann Wolfgang called it a ‘temple of the arts’.
Kleinknecht was born in Ulm, where his father was organist at the cathedral. He attached great importance to the musical education of his sons. He himself had a broad musical knowledge, and was acquainted with the Italian style as he had studied in Venice. He was also director of the local Collegium Musicum, which played much Italian music. In this ensemble his sons had their first experiences in music. At the age of fifteen Jakob Friedrich was accepted as a court musician in the chapel of the bishop of Eichstätt. In 1743 he moved to Bayreuth, where he entered the chapel as a flautist. Here his elder brother was Konzertmeister; later they were joined by their younger brother, Johann Stephan. Kleinknecht befriended the violinist Franz Benda, and under his influence he switched to the violin. In 1749 he became vice-Konzertmeister. In 1753 Bayreuth experienced a disaster: a fire destroyed the castle. It explains why only a small part of Kleinknecht’s early works has been preserved. In 1769 the court moved to Ansbach.
The largest part of Kleinknecht’s extant oeuvre consists of trio sonatas, some specifically for two flutes, others for flutes or violins. The programme recorded by Ensemble La Cantonnade offers a survey of his output in this genre. It shows the stylistic variety in his oeuvre. He was a contemporary of CPE Bach and that comes to the fore in some of the sonatas. At the same time, he adopted elements of the galant idiom, and in his music we find traces of both the Italian and the French style.
The Sonata in G, which opens this disc, has come down to us in manuscript. Here we find two stylistic traces: on the one hand it includes passages which show Kleinknecht’s skills in counterpoint, especially in the opening movement. On the other hand, in particular the two other movements are dominated by parallel motion of the two flutes. The second movement is notable for a cadenza for both flutes, which is written out by the composer, and in which the flutes cover a wide range. It seems unlikely that such a work was within the grasp of an amateur. As this sonata was to be played by Kleinknecht and the Margrave, the latter must have had a very good technique.
This disc offers the complete Op 2: three sonatas for two flutes and basso continuo, which were published in Nuremberg in 1749. The first is in G major and the three movements are in the order which was fashionable in Berlin at the time: slow – fast – fast. The opening amoroso e andante is an elegant piece, which is followed by a sprightly allegro non tanto. The closing movement, an allegro assai, attests again to Kleinknecht’s skills in counterpoint, as it has the form of a double fugue. The Sonata in G minor is of an entirely different character. No gallantry here, but rather Sturm und Drang; the affinity with the oeuvre of CPE Bach makes itself felt. The dark key of G minor is telling, as music in the galant idiom was almost always in major keys. The opening movement – allegro commodo – includes quite some harmonic peculiarities and marked dissonances. Whereas the andantino in the centre is a rather quiet piece, the closing allegro assai is bursting with energy and drama.
The last work of this set, the Sonata in D, is again in the ‘Berlin’ order and opens with an arioso, mà non troppo adagio. Here the two flautists, undoubtedly thinking about the cadenza in the very first sonata, have included their own. The last movement is a presto, and here we find traces of traditional music, for instance in the repetitive passages in the bass, which work like a drone. The liner-notes associate this movement with the tambourin in French music. Telemann would not have been ashamed of it.
The shortest and latest sonata is thought to date from 1770 and has also been preserved in manuscript. It is in the carefree key of C major, and that results in a truly galant piece. The opening is andante and after an allegro assai, the sonata fittingly ends with a menuet and trio.
Kleinknecht is not an entirely unknown quantity. Some of his music has been recorded, for instance by Wilbert Hazelzet and Ildikó Kertész, but it seems that only his sonatas for flute and basso continuo have received any attention. The booklet to this disc mentions that the five works performed here are all world premiere recordings. The exploration of this part of Kleinknecht’s oeuvre is well deserved. There can be no doubt that he was a man of high repute: the court of Bayreuth would not have been satisfied with mediocre musicians. The fact that some of his music was published in London and Paris is telling. His contemporary Johann Adam Hiller, composer and writer on music, stated: “The music director Mr. Jakob Friedrich Kleinknecht is known and esteemed in Germany and beyond for his exceptionally beautiful and masterly instrumental works. In all his works the most refined taste, melody and rigour dominate.” This selection of his trio sonatas proves him right.
The Ensemble La Cantonnade is the ideal advocate of Kleinknecht’s music. Miho Shirai and Zsuzsa Csige (transverse flute), Marie Colombat (cello) and Niklas Heineke (harpsichord and spinet) deliver excellent and often exciting performances. The elegant and galant features come off perfectly, but they also pay much attention to the expressive and dramatic parts. The cello and the keyboard play a substantial part in making sure that these performances have maximum impact and make a lasting impression.
Johan van Veen
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