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Filippo GRAGNANI (1767-1812)
Quartetto Op. 8 [21.56]
Trio Op. 13 [13.52]
Duetto per due chitarre [15.48]
Sestetto [16.59]
Consortium Classicum
rec. 3-5 November 2005, Paul Gerhardt-Kirche, Leipzig. DDD

Now here's a new name for you. Or perhaps not; it depends on how much you are into some of the odd dusty corners of middle-of-the-road chamber music of the classical period. Filippo Gragnani is a shadowy figure, He was born in the international port of Livorno (once known as Leghorn), but he is known to have worked in St. Petersburg and Paris at the time of the revolution and in Moravia. Only a small part of his oeuvre has survived. He is described in the excellent booklet notes presented with this disc by Dieter Klöcker the clarinettist in this ensemble as "the protagonist of a whole guitar generation". If that sounds a bit 1960-ish then let me explain.

The guitar took the place of the piano in this little known repertoire. More research is going into this music but there were a group of composers, it seems, who wrote in the media of guitar with other instruments. These are simply names at present. Legnani, Rolla and Giuliani are numbered among them but they also include Paganini. Later Gounod, Spohr and Massenet included the guitar in their operas.

The guitar sets the music firmly in the chamber category, music of intimacy, music for the home. And with it, might be included differing instrumental combinations, as here. It seems curious then that the chosen recording venue as seen above and as seen from the photograph on the back of the booklet - I think of the Sestetto being recorded - was a church which is quite clearly too resonant for this music and therefore goes against its character. Was there no suitable room or, dare I say it, studio available for the occasion? Perhaps if there had been you might have heard the guitar better which was presumably desirable, especially in the Sestetto. However your ears will soon adjust to the venue and the space around the instruments.

The Sestetto is the most impressive piece on the disc. It falls into four movements with a Minuetto as the third. The opening Allegro is in sonata form. Gragnani achieves a happy balance between flute and clarinet as they sustain the melodic interest and do not outweigh the usually dominant violin. The Adagio second movement is particularly attractive. One is reminded at times of Weber in the flashy clarinet writing, of Mozart in its grace, of Haydn in its occasional witticisms and of Rossini, a particular influence with his well known crescendo which Gragnani successfully imitates in the last movement.

The disc opens with the longest work, the four movement quartet for clarinet, violin and two guitars, a singular combination you might think, but in form quite conventional again with a third movement Minuet and this time, a Trio. The opening has its first subject played on the clarinet. Sadly none of these works can be precisely dated but one wonders if this quartet could predate late Mozart in his use of the clarinet in the 1791 Concerto in A, this work being also in the key of A major. For variety at the repeat of the subject and at the start of the development section Gragnani gives the tune to the guitar that is quite an equal partner in this and perfectly well recorded in this piece. For the gracious second movement, a set of variations, the opening tune is given to the violin. The action later gets quite frantic and really good fun.

The Trio Op. 13 is a three movement piece ending in a rondo; no clarinet this time. The guitar is in theory even more significant but the musical material although bolder is still very 'drawing-room'. In the main however the principal themes are passed between the flute and violin with the guitar reduced to an accompanying role.

Talking of two guitars leads us nicely to the last work: the fifteen minute, three movement Duetto, again ending in an attractive Rondo. This is high quality domestic music-making, and elegantly composed in a rather Italianate style.

As the notes tell us "Gragnani indisputably belongs to the category of "Musici minores" but that does not stop the performers taking the music seriously and playing it as if it were Mozart and that is exactly what happens. Consortium Classicum play with rigour but intense musicality and a deep understanding. It is difficult to imagine how the music could ever be performed any better. It is well crafted and elegant with grace tinged with a controlled passion and this description marks the quality of the music as well as that of the performances.

Gary Higginson



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