Not long ago Christoph Graupner was little more than a name.
He was mainly known for being one of the applicants for the
of Thomaskantor in Leipzig in succession to Johann Kuhnau.
He was second on the town council’s list, and when the
first, Georg Philipp Telemann, was not available after
all, they turned to Graupner. His employer, the Landgrave
of Hessen-Darmstadt, didn't want to let him go, and therefore
Leipzig had to settle for - as it was called - 'mediocrity'
in the person of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Some of Graupner's music has been recorded in the past, but it is
only since the beginning of this century that some musicians
have started to focus strongly on his oeuvre. The German
conductor and keyboard player Siegbert Rampe recorded two
discs of orchestral and chamber music with his ensemble
Nova Stravaganza (MDG), and the Canadian harpsichordist
Geneviève Soly is recording Graupner's keyboard music (Analekta).
In his programme notes, Glen Wilson - himself a renowned
harpsichordist and the former teacher of Naoko Akutagawa
- refers to Graupner's "sterling reputation as a performer".
A part of Graupner's keyboard music was published during
his lifetime, but this disc mainly contains pieces which
were never printed. And Wilson may be right in suggesting
that the virtuosity of these pieces is such that they were
mainly written for Graupner's own use.
The works here are called 'Partita' which is one of the terms used
in Germany for a suite of dance movements. The standard
structure of the suite was a sequence of allemande, courante,
sarabande and gigue. But - like other composers - Graupner
adapted the structure when he wanted. And so the Partita
in A, which opens this disc, begins with a preludium, the
sarabande - with double - is followed by a menuet and an
aria with five variations, before closing with a gigue.
Or rather, it does on this disc: it really ends with a
Chaconne which is played later. The Partita in c minor
doesn't have a gigue at all; again it opens with a praeludium,
and after the sarabande we find a menuet and another aria
with variations. The disc ends with a Partita which was
the first of a series of Partitas which was planned to
be published as 'The Four Seasons', but only this Partita,
called 'Winter', has come down to us. It is not known whether
Graupner for some reason didn't continue with this series
or whether the other pieces have been lost. This work also
starts with a praeludium, followed by allemande and courante,
three menuets, an 'air en sarabande' and is closed with
a 'bourrée en rondeau'.
As with many composers in Germany Graupner, both in his keyboard works
and his orchestral music, is a representative of the 'mixed
taste', a combination of French and Italian elements. The
preludes are especially interesting because of their almost
improvisatory nature. All of them are in two sections:
the preludes of the Partitas in C minor and F minor begin
with a slow section, followed by a fast second section.
The prelude of the Partita in A is in fact a prelude and
fugue, and bears the traces of the 'stylus phantasticus'
which was a feature of the North-German organ school. Graupner
is more interested in counterpoint than some of his contemporaries.
This shows the influence of his teacher, Johann Kuhnau,
who thoroughly instructed him in counterpoint.
Naoko Akutagawa shows her impressive technical skills in this programme
of pieces which are often very virtuosic. That is not only
the case in the preludes, which are played with the appropriate
touch of improvisation, but also in the large Chaconne
- probably one of the longest in the 18th century. It is
another bow to tradition in that it is a passacaille bass
but slightly extended. It was originally part of the Partita
in A which opens this disc, but played here independently.
Ms Akutagawa plays it brilliantly with an intensity which
never fades. Other highlights are the air with variations
which ends the Partita in C minor and the three menuets
from the Partita in F minor. She has a very good sense
of the rhythm of the dance movements: listen, for instance,
to the courante from the Partita in A. Only the menuets
of the Partitas in A and in C minor could have been played
with a little more elegance; Ms Akutagawa's performance
is a bit too robust to my taste.
I mentioned some highlights in this recording, but in fact that is
hardly necessary as this disc is captivating from beginning
to end. If you are sceptical about the quality of a composer
whose name hardly ever appears on the concert programmes
of keyboard players, just purchase this disc. I am sure
it will convince you that Graupner was a great composer
whose name deserves to be mentioned in one breath with
the likes of Telemann, Fasch, and - indeed - Johann Sebastian
Bach. And it wouldn't surprise me at all if you end up
looking for more. Thanks to Naoko Akutagawa and her wonderful
see also review by Glyn Pursglove