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
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
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
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.