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Carl Heinrich GRAUN (1703/04 - 1759) / Johann Gottlieb GRAUN (1702/03 - 1771): "Concerti"

Il Gardellino
Dir: Marcel Ponseele
rec: April 2005, Haarlem, Doopsgezinde Kerk
Accent - ACC 24166 (© 2006) (67'56")

Concerto for oboe d'amore, strings and bc in Db; Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in Ea; Concerto for viola da gamba, strings and bc in Ad; Concerto grosso for transverse flute, violin, viola da gamba, cello, strings and bc in Gacde

Jan De Winne, transverse flutea; Marcel Ponseele, oboe d'amoreb; Stephen Freeman, Sophie Gent, Ryo Terakadoc, violin; Mika Akiha, violin, viola; Vittorio Ghielmi, viola da gambad; René Schiffer, celloe; Frank Coppieters, violone; Shalev Ad-El, harpsichord; Lorenzo Ghielmi, fortepiano

This disc presents four concertos with the simple reference to the composer as 'Graun'. But there were two composers with that name: Johann Gottlieb and Carl Heinrich. Both were among the leading composers in Germany in the mid-18th century. But as they signed most of their compositions with 'Graun' only, it is often not possible to attribute them to one of the brothers. The fact that their handwritings look very similar doesn't make it any easier. It is only cimcumstantial evidence that could give some indication as to who of them wrote which concerto.

Both Grauns were born in Wahrenbrück in Saxony, but as in 1714 the church registers were lost by fire their exact years of birth aren't known. Both attended he Kreuzschule in Dresden and both studied at Leipzig University. Johann Gottlieb took violin lessons from Johann Georg Pisendel in Dresden, and later went to Padua in Italy to study under Giuseppe Tartini. In 1726 he was appointed Konzertdirektor in Merseburg. Johann Sebastian Bach sent his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann to Graun to study the violin.
In 1732 he became a member of the newly formed chapel of the Prussian Crown Prince Friedrich in Ruppin. In the next years other musicians joined the chapel, among them Graun's pupil Franz Benda, his brother Carl Heinrich and Christoph Schaffrath. The chapel further developed after Friedrich's accession to the throne. Graun acted as Konzertmeister of the chapel until his death. As composer and as violinist he was held in high esteem.

Although his brother Carl Heinrich received lessons in keyboard playing he was first and foremost active as a singer. He sang in several opera productions. During his time in Dresden he seems to have composed at least two cycles of church cantatas but the music has been lost. In 1724 he was appointed as a tenor at the court of Duke August Wilhelm of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, where he concentrated on performing music in Italian style. His own operas also were Italian in character. In 1735 he moved to Berlin joining the court chapel where Johann Gottlieb was already working. Although the core of his musical output consists of vocal works he also wrote instrumental works.

The first item on this disc is the Concerto for viola da gamba, strings and bc in A, which is assumed being written by Johann Gottlieb. At the time the viola da gamba was already in decline, in favour of the cello. But in 1740 the court chapel in Berlin was joined by Ludwig Christian Hesse, a famous virtuoso on the viola da gamba, who started his career as a member of the orchestra of the court in Darmstadt. He had received lessons in Paris from both Marin Marais and Antoine Forqueray. The younger brother of Friedrich II, August Wilhelm, was a great lover of the gamba and thanks to him Hesse was appointed as member of the chapel. Compositions for viola da gamba and orchestra were very rare in Germany, and one would think that the frequent use of strong dynamic contrasts in the style of the time between baroque and classicism wouldn't suit the viola da gamba very well, considering its relatively limited dynamic possibilities. But the viola da gamba is a naturally sensitive instrument, which is well able to express the deep-felt emotions which are also part of the style of that time. As a result this is a wonderful and very expressive concerto, and thanks to the small number of players involved the balance between soli and tutti isn't much of a problem.

An interesting item is the last, a concerto grosso for four solo instruments, strings and bc. The solo instruments of this composition, which was probably written by Carl Heinrich, are divided into two groups, which alternately dialogue with the orchestra. This is enhanced by the decision to use two basso continuo groups, one with harpsichord, and another with a Silbermann fortepiano, the kind of fortepiano which probably was used at the court in Berlin.
The two remaining concertos, of which the flute concerto is attributed to Carl Heinrich, are much more galant in character.

This is a very interesting recording, which gives some insight into the musical life at the court in Berlin, and shows the variety of compositional styles of the time between baroque and classicism. As the list of performers show Marcel Ponseele has opted for a performance with a chamber ensemble, which seems to me most appropriate. And the performance as it actually sounds backs him up: there is a very good balance within the ensemble and between the solo instruments and the tutti. Even the relatively soft sound of the viola da gamba is clearly audible in the solo concerto which opens this disc. Il Gardellino gives wonderfully sensitive and energetic performances, and the solo parts are very well realised. Vittorio Ghielmi should be especially mentioned for his fine artistry in the solo concerto.

Once there was a widely held view that most music between the baroque era and the classical period is rather superficial and not really worth listening to - and there are probably still people who think so. Recordings like this correct that prejudice, and therefore can't be praised enough.

Johan van Veen (© 2007)

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