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"Concerti - Telemann, Pfeiffer, Graun"

Hille Perl, viola da gamba; Han Tol, recordera
Freiburger Barockorchesterb
Dir: Petra Müllejans

rec: Oct 21 - 24, 2010, Freiburg, Paulussaal
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88697824002 (© 2012) (67'29")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Carl Friedrich ABEL (1723-1787): Adagio in d minor (WKO 209); Allegro in D (WKO 198); Allegro in d minor (WHO 207); [Arpeggio] in d minor (WKO 205); [Moderato] in d minor (WKO 208); Johann Gottlieb GRAUN (1702-1771): Concerto for viola da gamba, strings and bc in Gb; Johann PFEIFFER (1697-1761): Concerto for viola da gamba, 2 violins and bc in Ab; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Concerto for recorder, viola da gamba, strings and bc in a minor (TWV 52,a1)ab

Petra Müllejans, Gerd Uwe Klein, Peter Barczi, Christa Kittel, Kathrin Tröger, Eva Borhi, violin; Ulrike Kaufmann, Lothar Haas, viola; Ute Petersilge, cello; Miriam Shalinsky, double bass; Lee Santana, theorbo; Torsten Johann, harpsichord

The viola da gamba is very much an instrument of the 17th century. In France it developed into one of the most celebrated solo instruments, with composers as Sainte-Colombe and Forqueray. In England it was first and foremost used as a consort instrument, although some quite virtuosic solo music was written, especially by Christopher Simpson. In Italy it became almost obsolete and was soon overshadowed by the cello. In Germany the viola da gamba was in particular used in sacred music, and in chamber music in sonatas with one or two violins. At the time the solo concerto rose to prominence the viola da gamba was well past its prime. It is therefore quite remarkable that in the mid-18th century a considerable amount of music for this instrument was written in Germany. That was largely due to the presence of a virtuosic player of the gamba, Ludwig Ernst Hesse.

He was the son of Ernst Christian Hesse who for most of his life was at the service of the court in Darmstadt, where Ludwig Christian was also born. His father also travelled around as a virtuoso, visiting several places in Germany, and also in Italy, the Netherlands and England. For a short while Ludwig Christian also played in Darmstadt, but in 1741 he entered the court chapel of Frederick the Great. He acted as the teacher of Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, an avid player of the viola da gamba.

His presence inspired several composers to write for his instrument, among them Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach who created his sonatas for viola da gamba and bc for Hesse. According to New Grove Johann Gottlieb Graun, who was Konzertmeister of the court chapel, composed five concertos for viola da gamba, strings and bc. I don't know whether the Concerto in D is one of them, since Hille Perl states in her liner-notes that the only existing copy of this work was given to her in the early 1990s. Like in the other concertos the solo part is quite demanding and reflects the great skills of Hesse. It is in the modern Vivaldian form of three movements. Notable is the adagio ma non tanto, in which the viola da gamba dialogues with the violas. In this movement and the closing allegro Hille Perl plays extended cadenzas as became common usage in solo concertos in the mid-18th century. The viola da gamba may be not one of the loudest instruments, it apparently hadn't lost any of its attraction, and it can easily hold its position against a body of strings.

A lesser-known composer who was active in Berlin was Johann Pfeiffer, albeit only for a couple of years. He started his career as Konzertmeister of the court chapel in Weimar, and after some time in Berlin he became Hofkapellmeister in Bayreuth, at the court of Margrave Frederick of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, who was married to Frederick the Great's sister Wilhelmine. There is no information in the booklet about the time of composition of his Concerto in A; maybe it was composed in Berlin or it was written later and came to Berlin as there obviously was contact between the two courts. It is a quite nice piece, a kind of concerto da camera, which is rightly played here with one instrument per part. It follows the 'old-fashioned' structure of the sonata da chiesa in four movements.

Georg Philipp Telemann loved unusual combinations of instruments. One of his more famous concertos has solo parts for recorder and bassoon. The combination of recorder and viola da gamba is equally remarkable, although he wrote several pieces of chamber music for the same two instruments. As in many of his concertos for one or various solo instruments Telemann also uses the form of the sonata da chiesa. As he was able to play almost any instrument in vogue in his time he fully explores the features of the two instruments. This piece has been recorded several times and that is understandable: this is Telemann at his very best. A copy has been preserved in the library of Darmstadt. According to New Grove it dates from between 1725 and 1735. Telemann may have written it for Ludwig Christian's father Ernst Christian who at that time was a member of the chapel in Darmstadt. At that time the Kapellmeister was Christoph Graupner, who was close friends with Telemann.

The concertos are separated by pieces for viola da gamba solo by another virtuoso on the instrument, Carl Friedrich Abel. He worked for some time in Berlin as well, but then went to London where he settled in 1759. Only some years later he was joined by Johann Christian Bach, and together they organised the Bach-Abel concerts. New York Public Library owns a manuscript, known as the Drexel-manuscript which includes a number of pieces which Abel may have played in his concerts. Some of them may be written-down improvisations. They bear witness to Abel's impressive capabilities on his instrument and are understandably quite popular among today's gambists. Paolo Pandolfo devoted a complete disc to pieces from this source (Glossa, 2008) and Susanne Heinrich included a number of them in her recording 'Mr Abel's Fine Airs' (Hyperion, 2007). It would have been nice if the record company had added the catalogue numbers as many of Abel's pieces have the same tempo indication and are in the same key.

Hille Perl is one of today's most brilliant and versatile gambists. She delivers excellent performances of Abel's solo pieces and is an engaging soloist in the concertos. Her cadenzas are technically impressive but especially stylish. The collaboration with the Freiburger Barockorchester is immaculate, and the result is a compelling disc of some of the best music for her instrument from the mid-18th century. I liked her performance of the Graun concerto more than that of Vittorio Ghielmi of another of his concertos ( There is no lack of drama here, but there is also elegance and refinement, something I sorely missed in Ghielmi's recording.

If your are a gamba aficionado, don't miss this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Hille Perl
Freiburger Barockorchester

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