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Johann Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760)
Partita in A major [15:18]
Partita in C minor [16:17]
Chaconne in A major [9:44]
Partita in F minor (‘Winter’) [17:13]
Naoko Akutagawa (harpsichord)
rec. 3-5 December, 2007, Kloster Bronnbach, Wertheim, Germany
NAXOS 8.570459 [58:32]
Experience Classicsonline

In the notes he provides for this disc, Glen Wilson – with whom harpsichordist Naoko Akutagawa studied – reminds us of how in 1772, when the town council of Leipzig were seeking to appoint a new cantor for the church of St. Thomas, their first choice was Telemann; when he, instead, took a post in Hamburg, their choice fell on Johann Christoph Graupner. Graupner was, at the time, Kapellmeister to the Landgrave of Hessen-Darmstadt; negotiating a salary increase, Graupner stayed where he was. The Leipzig Council had to look elsewhere; one candidate was recommended by Graupner and, as one councillor said at the time, “if we cannot get the best, we must settle for a mediocrity”. The ‘mediocrity’ they appointed was a certain Johann Sebastian Bach. Presumably, if they could view the matter with the advantage of hindsight, the Leipzig councillors would feel that they actually made rather a good appointment. Musical history has perhaps implicitly labelled Graupner the ‘mediocrity’ – certainly it has granted him a less elevated place in the pantheon than either Bach or Telemann, or his other contemporary and rival, Handel.
Even so, it is a bit misleading of Glen Wilson to say that Graupner has largely been forgotten. After all, six discs of his harpsichord music recorded by Geneviève Soly have been issued on Analekta (see reviews of volumes one and five); Analekta has also issued a disc of instrumental and vocal Music, with performers who include L’Ensemble des Idées Heureuses conducted by Geneviève Soly (Analekta 23162); also – and these are not the only recordings to have been issued – there are at least two discs of orchestral works played by Nova Stravaganza directed by Siegbert Rampe (see reviews of first and second discs). There is also a society devoted to promoting knowledge of the man and his music (since he wrote over 1,000 cantatas they have much material to work on!). Still, none of this detracts from the attraction of having a further recording of music by Graupner readily available on Naxos.
On the present disc the Japanese harpsichordist Naoko Akutagawa plays three of Graupner’s partitas, plus a substantial movement from a fourth. The ‘Winter’ partita was published in 1733; the others come from a manuscript collection generally known as the Darmstädter Clavierbuch, copied by Samuel Endler, vice-Kapellmeister at the Darmstadt Court (where Graupner held the position of Kapellmeister from 1712 until his death), and containing work by Kuhnau and Telemann as well as Graupner. The works in this manuscript tend to be more technically demanding than the works Graupner published, requiring a player of the virtuosity for which Graupner himself was renowned.
Naoko Akutagawa shows herself well able to meet the technical demands of the music. In Graupner’s usage ‘Partita’ means a suite of dance-based movements. Thus, for example, the Partita in F minor (‘Winter’) has six movements: Paeludium (Largo) – Allemande – Courante - Menuets, I, II and III - Air en Sarabande - Bourée en Rondeau. Elsewhere the movements include arias with variations. Akutagawa plays the music with confidence and technical certainty, and is at her most striking in the grander, more formal movements. The Praeludium to the Partita in C minor, for example, sounds particularly fine, played with a nice sense of gravity and space, beautifully unhurried and stately, but with some nice variations of tempo. The allemands in each partita are also played very attractively and persuasively. If I have a slight reservation it would be that in some of the more ‘courtly’ movements – such as the three sarabandes, it might have been nice to hear just a bit more lyrical expressiveness.

I haven’t heard all of Geneviève Soly’s recordings, but what I have heard suggests that she is a player who responds a little more sympathetically to this side of Graupner’s music. But this may be no more than a matter of subjective taste, and I have no wish to denigrate Akutagawa’s very proficient work on this disc. Specialists will clearly want the set by Soly; for most listeners this present disc will serve as an attractive sampler of Graupner’s work. Naxos don’t provide any details of the instrument played by Akutagawa; it sounds well fitted to the music and it is given a clear recorded sound in a comfortable acoustic.
Glyn Pursglove



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