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Christoph GRAUPNER (1683 - 1760): "Chalumeaux - Concertos, Ouvertures & Sonatas"

Ars Antiqua Austria
Dir: Gunar Letzbor

rec: Nov 10 - 13, 2011, Stift St. Florian, near Linz an der Donau
Challenge Classics - CC72539 (© 2012) (74'41")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

anon: Sonata for harpsichord and violin in g minor (GWV 709)a; Sonata for harpsichord and violin in g minor (GWV 711)a; Christoph GRAUPNER: Concerto for 2 chalumeaux, strings and bc in C (GWV 303); Overture for 3 chalumeaux, strings and bc in F (GWV 449); Overture for 2 horns, timpani, 2 chalumeaux, strings and bc in F (GWV 452)

Ernst Schlader, Markus Springer, Christian Leitherer, chalumeau; Albert Heitzinger, Michael Söllner, horn; Gunar Letzbora, Barbara Konrad, violin; Markus Miesenberger, viola; Karin Gemeinhardt, bassoon; Jan Krigovsky, violone; Hubert Hoffmann, lute; Nobert Zeilberger, harpsichorda, organ; Alex Georgiev, timpani

Only recently I reviewed a disc which was devoted to music performed in Vienna in the early 18th century with parts for, among others, one or several chalumeaux ("Un dolce affanno"). The chalumeau was quite popular at the time in Vienna. Another centre of composing for and playing of the chalumeau was Darmstadt, where Christoph Graupner was Kapellmeister. His output includes quite a number of compositions for one to three chalumeaux.

The chalumeau was developed at the end of the 17th century. As Ernst Schlader writes in his liner-notes it is often connected to the shawm, but there is a strong difference between these two. In the article in New Grove Colin Lawson states that the instrument rather "evolved (...) from attempts to increase the volume of sound produced by the recorder". He also refers to the "close physical relationship between the two instruments". The playing technique was also largely comparable. The instrument maker Johann Christoph Denner, member of a dynasty of makers of woodwind instruments in Nuremberg, played a crucial role in the development of the chalumeau. A notable feature of this instrument is its limited tessitura. "Its construction and lack of register key means that the chalumeau has a relatively limited range of twelve tones. This caused the chalumeau to be built in various sizes in the style of consort instruments", Schlader writes. In his oeuvre Graupner used the chalumeau in the ranges of alto, tenor and bass.

The Overture in F (GWV 449) includes parts for all three of them. They build quite a contrast to the strings which often have brilliant parts to play, whereas the chalumeaux, because of their rather dark tone, are naturally more intimate and lyrical. Graupner explores this contrast to great effect in two movements: 'Le Desire' and 'La Speranza amorosa'. They both have the character of a dialogue between a solo violin and the three chalumeaux, with the other strings playing pizzicato. Strings and chalumeaux are also juxtaposed in the second movement (allegro). The sweet tone of the chalumeaux comes to the fore in 'bergerie' and 'air', two movements of a rather playful character. The bergerie has an ABA structure, with the chalumeaux playing alone in the B section. Their characteristic tone is also explored in the andante from the Concerto in C (GWV 303), in which they appear in the ranges of alto and bass.

The Overture in F (GWV 452) has a quite particular character, thanks to the scoring which includes two horn parts. They play a prominent role and inevitably more or less overshadow the chalumeaux, which here appear in the tenor and bass ranges. In 1766 Graupner's colleague and friend Georg Philipp Telemann composed several pieces with prominent horn parts for Ludwig VIII, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt from 1739 to 1768. He was known as a fanatical huntsman, and it was the horn which was usually associated with the hunt. It is quite possible that this overture also was meant as a special reference to the Landgrave's favourite occupation. The horns play a particularly prominent role in the first movement and also in the air which could not be more different from the air in the Overture GWV 449. After a 'tempo di sarabande' the first section of the air is repeated, bringing the overture to a close.

An interesting part of this disc are the two sonatas for harpsichord and violin. They are included in the catalogue of Graupner's oeuvre, but it is unlikely that they are from his pen. They have been preserved in his hand, but the name of the composer is not mentioned, and Ursula Kramer, in her programme notes, suggests that Graupner himself might not have known who wrote them. They have the same texture as the well-known set of six sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach. They are in four movements, modelled after the Corellian sonata da chiesa, and are scored for harpsichord and violin, in that order. These are really beautiful sonatas; in the Festival Early Music Utrecht of 2012 I heard two of them (GWV 709 and 710). I liked them and considered them a worthwhile addition to the repertoire for this scoring. This recording confirms my positive impressions. Unfortunately the digital catalogue of Graupner's works doesn't give any details about the doubtful works; therefore I don't know how many of such sonatas exist in Graupner's handwriting. They should definitely be in the repertoire of performers.

Over the years I have reviewed several recordings of music by Graupner. I admit, I am a pretty big fan of his. His compositions are always interesting, far away from any convention, and highly original. You won't often find common patterns in his oeuvre. That makes every disc an adventure, and this one is no exception. It is a joy to listen to, also because of the outstanding performances. The two overtures are brilliantly executed; the concerto is also well done. The two sonatas are given beautiful readings; the only criticism could be that the balance between the harpsichord and the violin is a little too much in favour of the latter.

This is an exciting disc. Graupner has done it again.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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Ars Antiqua Austria

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