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Christoph SCHAFFRATH (1709 - 1763): "Trios & Sonatas"

Epoca Barocca
rec: October & November 2003, October 2005, Cologne, Studio Deutschlandfunk
CPO - 777 116-2 (© 2006) (69'49")

Sonata for cello and harpsichord in C; Sonata for oboe and bc in d minor; Sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord in G; Trio for violin, bassoon and bc in B flat; Trio for violin, oboe and bc in g minor

Alessandro Piqué, oboe; Margarete Adorf, violin; Hartwig Groth, viola da gamba; Ilze Grudule, cello; Sergio Azzolini, bassoon; Christoph Lehmann, harpsichord

Christoph Schaffrath was one of a bunch of composers who played an important role in the music life of Berlin, at and around the court of Frederick the Great. Soon after his death he practically sank into oblivion, where he has stayed until our time. The renewed interest in German music between the baroque era and classicism has led to a disc like that by Epoca Barocca.

Not much is known about Schaffrath before the 1730's. He was born in Hohenstein, but whether he came from a musical family or who his first teacher was is not known. In 1733 he applied for the position of organist at the Sophienkirche in Dresden, but he was rejected – Wilhelm Friedemann Bach received the post instead. The next year he entered the service of Frederick the Great, who at the time was still the Crown-Prince, who started his own chapel in Ruppin, which moved to Rheinsberg in 1736. With Frederick's accession to the throne in 1740 Schaffrath became harpsichordist in his chapel. But in 1741 he entered the service of Frederick's sister Anna Amalia. It seems this resulted in Schaffrath leaving the court, as he isn't mentioned in a list of musicians of the chapel from 1754.

Schaffrath composed no less than 63 concertos for his own instrument, the harpsichord. This disc concentrates on the chamber music, which shows he was a typical representative of the transition between baroque and classicism. Whereas Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, one of his colleagues in Berlin, embraced the style of the Empfindsamkeit, Schaffrath's music bears the stamp of the galant style. He doesn't make much use of counterpoint, not even in the trio sonatas. Themes are imitated, but they are mostly very short, and the two instruments often play in parallel thirds and sixths. At the end of the slow movement of the Trio in g minor there seems to be a hint at a cadence, but the players don't play one – perhaps they consider that inappropriate in this particular sonata. In the Sonata for oboe and bc in d minor, on the other hand, Alessandro Piqué takes the opportunity to play a cadenza in the slow movement, although rather short, which is certainly right. This slow movement opens the sonata, whose order of movements, slow – fast – fast, became fashionable in the middle of the 18th century. The same pattern is followed in the last work on this disc, the Trio in B flat, which contains a bassoon part which is very virtuosic. As Schaffrath has written demanding bassoon parts remarkably often one may conclude that at his time some players with great skills must have been around.

Especially interesting are the two duets for keyboard and melody instruments. This was a form which was developed from the trio sonata by Johann Sebastian Bach. His son Carl Philipp Emanuel also made frequently use of it. Ironically the two melody instruments here are the cello and the viola da gamba, which were competing for the favour of the string players. At Schaffrath's time the viola da gamba still had the upper hand, and it is very likely this particular piece was written for Ludwig Christian Hesse, the most famous gambist of Germany, for whom Johann Gottlieb Graun – also one of Schaffrath's colleagues in Berlin – composed a number of solo concertos. The two pieces are quite different, and this may well reflect the difference in status between the two instruments and perhaps also the original players. The viola da gamba is more independent from the keyboard than the cello, and it often introduces the thematic material whereas in the sonata for cello and harpsichord it is mostly the keyboard which takes the lead. The viola da gamba part is also considerably more technically demanding than the cello part.

The programme on this disc demonstrates that Schaffrath has been unjustly neglected, and it is again CPO which pays attention to such an ignored master. It makes this German label to one of the most adventurous and most important labels on the early music scene. And it is always able to attract ensembles and musicians who know how to put an underrated composer on the map. Epoca Barocca is one of them. The ensemble as a whole and all its members individually give splendid performances, technically assured, and with great flair and imagination. Cleverly they have saved the most interesting and most remarkable pieces for the end: the Sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord in G and the Trio in B flat. These alone make this disc recommendable.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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