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Johann Gottlieb GRAUN (1702 - 1771): "Concertos for strings"

Ilia Korol, violina, violab; Piroska Batori, violinc
Dir: Ilia Korol

rec: Oct 13 - 17, 2008, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal)
Challenge Records - CC72317 (2 CDs) ( 2009) (1.27'15")

Markus Heinrich GRAUEL (?-1799) (attr): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in Aa; Johann Gottlieb GRAUN: Concerto for viola, strings and bc in E flat (GraunWV Cv:XIII,116)b; Concerto for violin and orchestra in c minor (GraunWV C:XIII,68)a; Concerto for 2 violins and orchestra in F (GraunWV Av:XIII,31)ac; Concerto for 2 violins and orchestra in G (GraunWV C:XIII,84)ac

The Graun brothers Carl Heinrich and Johann Gottlieb are important representatives of the generation of composers between the baroque and classical eras. Johann Gottlieb attended the Kreuzschule in Dresden and later studied at Leipzig University. He received lessons on the violin from the then most prominent violinist in Germany, Johann Georg Pisendel. He also travelled to Italy, where he became acquainted with Giuseppe Tartini. Back home he was appointed concertmaster of the orchestra of the Prussian Crown Prince Frederick, while Carl Heinrich got the position of Kapellmeister. Graun held this position until his death. He was also active as a violin teacher; among his pupils were Franz Benda - from 1733 onwards also a member of Frederick's orchestra - and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach.

Graun composed many concertos, mostly for violin, which were to be played by himself and reflect his own skills as a violin virtuoso. Burney reports that he was greatly admired as a composer who combined pleasant melodies with counterpoint and was generally considered "one of the greatest violinists of his day".

The concertos on these two discs show that he gradually moved away from counterpoint. The Concerto in c minor is the earliest piece in this set and was written in 1730 or even earlier. Particularly beautiful is the largo in which the violin moves over a tutti which is dominated by a motif of three notes. Although the scoring includes two oboes they have no independent parts but play colla parte with the violins.

That is also the case in the Concerto for two violins in G. The scoring includes two parts for horns, and these are independent and play a noticeable role in the fast movements, but are silent in the adagio. This movement is dominated by Seufzer and descending figures, both in the solo parts and in the tutti.

Graun's acquaintance with Giuseppe Tartini has had a strong influence on his compositional style. The Italian master didn't avoid virtuosity, but gave priority to expression. That is also the main feature of Graun's concertos, and it is no coincidence that in two concertos the slow movements are the longest. In the Concerto in F the second movement, mesto, is almost twice as long as the fast movements. That is different in the Concerto for viola in E flat. It is one of only two concertos for this instrument which are known from Graun. It is a particularly beautiful work, with a magnificent cantabile solo part in the middle movement, with the character indication 'adagio, un poco andante'.

The only piece which is not by Graun is the Concerto in A, which is attributed to Markus Heinrich Grauel. He is an almost completely unknown quantity, and has no entry in New Grove. The concerto is found in the archive of the Berlin Singakademie, and it says 'del Sigr. Grauel'. The man to which it is attributed was cellist in the court orchestra in Berlin from 1763. Considering his style he is thought to have been a pupil of Graun. It is less virtuosic but quite beautiful. The first movement is dominated by drum basses, a feature of many compositions from the mid-18th century.

Ilia Korol and Piroska Batori give excellent performances of the solo parts. The dialogue between the two violins is very well worked out and there is a good balance between the two violins. The viola concerto is definitely one of the highlights of this set, and the viola is brilliantly played by Ilia Korol. The horn parts are impressively executed by Oliver Kersken and Stefan Oetter, and also well recorded as they are clearly audible.

In short, this is a very fine production which sheds light on the oeuvre of a composer whose violin concertos need to be further explored.

Johan van Veen ( 2010)

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