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Hans-Rudolf Stalder, Heinz Höfer, Elmar Schmid, chalumeaub
Cappella Coloniensis
Dir: Hans-Martin Linde

rec: (live) Nov 9, 1987a & May 19, 1988c, Lindlar, Kulturzentrum; Jan 26, 1991, Bad Oeynhausen, Kurtheaterb
Phoenix - 173 (R) (© 2008) (66'03")
Liner-notes: E/D/F

Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688-1758): Overture for two orchestras in B flat (FWV K,B1); Johann Gottlieb GRAUN (1703-1771): Overture in d minora; Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760): Overture for 3 chalumeaux, strings and bc in C (GWV 409)b; Johann David HEINICHEN (1683-1729): Overture in G (S 206)c

It is admirable that the German label Phoenix is releasing recordings from the archives of the German radio channel WDR3. Some of them have been previously released by another German label, Capriccio. It would have been even better, if the production had been more careful. The recording date of the Fasch Overture is not given, the date of the Graupner is printed as 26.012991 which I have interpreted as 26 January 1991. And on top of it the liner notes are not particularly informative.

I had expected the author to explain, for instance, that all four compositions are called 'Overture', but that Graun's Overture is very different from the other three. The Overtures by Heinichen, Graupner and Fasch are written in the tradition of the French-style overture-suite, which was very popular in Germany in the first half of the 18th century. It was modelled after the overtures of the French opera composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, although he would probably not have recognized these overtures as French. They are called 'overture' after the first movement which is always in ABA form. It is followed by a series of dance movements and sometimes also character pieces or, like in the overtures on this disc, airs.

The most traditional scoring of this kind of Overtures was for two oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo. That is the scoring of the Overture in G by Johann David Heinichen. In his liner notes Benjamin Ivry writes: "Heinichen received a law degree from Leipzig University, which may account for the sometimes acerbic, willful edge to his melodies, as well as their rhetorical mastery". I don't see what the law degree has to do with the character of Heinichen's music, whose description is questionable anyway. Mastery of rhetorics is nothing exceptional: all German composers of that time had been thoroughly taught in musical rhetorics, as this was one of the basics of musical composition. Heinichen was, like Christoph Graupner, a pupil of Johann Kuhnau, the Leipzig Thomaskantor until his death in 1722. He was one of Germany's most reputed music teachers, so that is where both got it from.

It is another sign of the sloppiness of this production that only for Graupner's Overture in C the scoring is given. Here we have a piece without oboes and bassoon. The strings are joined by three chalumeaus - the liner notes don't even mention them. The chalumeau is often described as the predecessor of the clarinet, but that isn't quite correct. In a serenade by Telemann, for instance, both instruments appear alongside each other. Telemann was one of the first who wrote for the chalumeau, and the instrument also frequently appears in music by Graupner. The role of the three chalumeaus in this Overture is different from that of the oboes and the bassoon in Heinichen's. The latter play mostly colla parte with the violins, and are only used as solo instruments in the B sections of the bourrée and rigaudon. The chalumeaus in Graupner's Overture are true solo instruments which play the central role in the whole work, like in a solo concerto.

Johann Friedrich Fasch was considered one of Germany's leading composers in the first half of the 18th century. Like Heinichen and Graupner he has been a pupil of Kuhnau in Leipzig. For two years he worked in Dresden, where he met Heinichen again, who was Kapellmeister at the court. With Telemann and Graupner Fasch was one of the most prolific composers of orchestral overtures. This Overture in B flat is notable because of its scoring for two instrumental groups. The strings are joined here by two oboes and two bassoons, divided over the two orchestras.

Lastly, Johann Gottlieb Graun. He was one of two brothers, the other being Carl Heinrich. The latter was mainly known for his vocal music, in particular his operas, and his oratorio Der Tod Jesu. Johann Gottlieb composed mainly instrumental music, although it isn't always possible to be sure who of the two is the composer: they mostly signed their works with 'Graun', without Christian name. Like I already indicated, the piece played here may be called 'Overture', but it is quite different from the other Overtures. It consists of two movements without tempo indication. The first is in two sections: slow - fast. The fast section is by far the longest, and towards the end Graun returns briefly to the slow first section. But it is no real dacapo, so the structure of this movement is not ABA as in the traditional overtures. The second movement is again in a fast tempo. This Overture in d minor is much more like an Italian opera overture, and stylistically it belongs to another era. That is also reflected by the inclusion of two horn parts in the scoring. Horns were seldom used in baroque music, but in the second quarter of the 18th century they were becoming more and more a standard part of the orchestra.

This disc is commendable mainly because of the repertoire. The recordings are about 20 years old, and that shows. Furthermore, Hans-Martin Linde - originally a recorder player - has never been the most flamboyant of conductors, and sometimes the performances are a bit awkward, for instance the first movement of Heinichen's Overture in G. In comparison the recording of a number of Heinichen's concertos by Musica antiqua Köln (Archiv, 1992) is a whole lot better. But Fasch and Graun are well done, and the Overture in C by Graupner is really worthwhile, in particular because of the contribution of the three chalumeaus.

So, all in all, this is a nice disc to listen to and it is good that these recordings are available again, even though the performances are not top notch. If only the record company had been more careful.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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