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Johann Gottlieb (1702/03 - 1771) & Carl Heinrich (1703/04 - 1759) GRAUN: Concertos & Chamber music

[I] "Concerti"
Michael Schneider, recordera; Karl Kaiser, transverse fluteb; Swantje Hoffmann, violinc; Petra Müllejans, violind, violae; Christian Beuse, bassoonf
Cappella Academica Frankfurt

rec: Feb 24 - 26, 2007, Frankfurt/Main, Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst
CPO - 777 321-2 (© 2011) (62'55")

[II] "Wind Chamber Music of the Graun Brothers"
Concert Royal

rec: Jan 2002, Stuttgart, Studio of SWR
musicaphon - M 51842 (© 2002) (R) (65'40")

[I] Johann Gottlieb GRAUN: Concerto for violin, viola, strings and bc in c minor (Graun WV A:XIII,3)ce; Symphony for strings and bc in B flat (Graun WV A:XII,27); Johann Gottlieb/Carl Heinrich GRAUN: Concerto for recorder, violin, strings and bc in C (Graun WV Cv:XIII,96)ad; Concerto for transverse flute, 2 violins and bc in e minor (Graun WV D:XIII,171)b; ?Johann Gottlieb/?Carl Heinrich GRAUN/?Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760): Concerto for bassoon, strings and bc in F (Graun WV Cv:XIII,125)f

[II] Johann Gottlieb/Carl Heinrich GRAUN: Concerto for horn, oboe d'amore and bc in D; Concerto for horn, oboe d'amore and bc in D sharp; Concerto à 4 for 2 oboes, trumpets and bassoon; Trio for oboe d'amore, horn and bc in E; Trio for oboe d'amore, violin and bc in A; Trio for oboe d'amore, horn and bassoon in D; Trio for violin, horn and bc in D

[II] Rafael Vosseler, horn; Karla Schröter, Eric Douchy, oboe d'amore; Anette Sichelschmidt, violin; Trudy van der Wulp, bassoon; Romano Giefer, harpsichord

Performers who want to pay attention to the music of Johann Gottlieb and Carl Heinrich Graun have to deal with a problem which will probably never be solved. Their instrumental works are mostly signed with "di Graun" or "del Signor Graun". It is hardly possible to discern the compositions of the two brothers with any amount of certainty. Only two of the works on these two discs can be attributed to one of them: the Symphony in B flat and the Concerto for violin, viola, strings and bc in c minor. To make things even more complicated, compositions which are attributed to one of the Graun brothers could well have been composed by someone else. According to Michael Schneider that is also the case with the Concerto for bassoon, strings and bc in F. "A close examination of the manuscript reveals that only 'di Grau.' can be deciphered as the ascription - and this, in my opinion, points much more to 'Graupner' (...) than to 'Graun'. In any case, I am convinced that it is a work by Graupner and not one of the two Grauns". What could speak in favour of this assumption is that the concerto has been preserved in the archive of the court of Darmstadt, where Christoph Graupner worked for many years as Kapellmeister. If it is indeed composed by Graupner, it is a worthwhile addition to the bassoon concertos which are known to be from Graupner's pen and which have been recorded complete only recently by Sergio Azzolini.

One of the reasons there is so much confusion is the fact that their lives and careers are so strongly intertwined. For a long time they worked at the same court, in the chapel of Frederick the Great. 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.
Although 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.

It is reasonable to assume that Johann Gottlieb has written most of the instrumental works. But as Carl Heinrich also composed instrumental music there is no reason to attribute all instrumental pieces to Johann Gottlieb. And therefore in many cases the question of the authorship has to remain unanswered.

The music of the Graun's is an important link between the early baroque period and the early classical era. They mixed elements of both styles, for instance polyphony and homophony. In general one could say that their instrumental compositions are a bit more conservative than the music which was written by the members of the Mannheim School. What is clear, though, is that in the solo parts the development towards greater virtuosity is reflected in the concertos. That is the case here in the Concerto for violin, viola, strings and bc in c minor. A little old-fashioned is the use of the recorder in the Concerto in C. At the time the recorder had largely fallen from grace; it is the only piece by the Grauns which has a recorder part. This could well be written with a specific player in mind. A modern element is the use of muted strings in the slow movements of the Concerto in c minor and the Symphony in B flat. The CPO disc ends with another piece that has formerly been attributed to another composer. The Concerto in e minor was assumed to have been written by Pierre-Gabriel Buffardin, who from 1715 to 1750 was flautist of the Dresden court orchestra. It has also been attributed to Quantz and to Locatelli, but it seems that it is an authentic Graun composition. The scoring with two violins and bc - without viola - suggests a performance with one instrument per part. That is how it is performed by the Cappella Academica Frankfurt.

Most pieces have been recorded before, at least the Concerto in c minor and the Concerto in C, but probably not so well. Here we get very lively performances, with strong contrasts and immaculate ensemble. The soloists give impressive accounts of their parts. In the slow movement of the Concerto in F the bassoon is accompanied by basso continuo alone. Here the harpsichord is joined by another bassoon, and that makes it sometimes hard to tell the solo part and the continuo line apart. I am not sure that this was the composer's intention.

The second disc claims to bring all of the chamber music with wind by the Graun brothers. This disc was first released in 2002, and has now been reissued. The booklet doesn't mention that, but I have the original disc in my cupboard with a different picture at the front. Strangely enough the errors in the tracklist have not been corrected. It says that the Concerto in D sharp is for horn, oboe d'amore and bc, whereas in fact two oboi d'amore are playing with the horn and the basso continuo. When this disc was first released I wrote a review for the German magazine Alte Musik Aktuell (now Toccata/Alte Musik Aktuell). I didn't particularly like the performances, and having heard them another time I haven't seen any reason to change my mind. These performances are dynamically too flat, with little differentiation between notes, and also not very speech-like. The tempi are mostly too slow as well. Two of the pieces, the trios with horn, have also been recorded by Claude Maury and the Ricercar Consort (Ricercar), and they have are much more convincing in every respect. But as far as I know the other pieces are not recorded elsewhere, so if you are interested in this repertoire this disc may have some attraction. But a better recording is highly desirable.

The booklet contains some information about the interpretation by Karla Schröter, but the track-list doesn't give any catalogue numbers.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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