Johann Gottlieb GRAUN (1702/3 –
1771) and Carl Heinrich GRAUN (1703/4
Symphony for Strings and Basso Continuo in B flat major (JGG) [7:46]
Concerto for Violin, Viola, Strings and B.C in C minor (JGG) [24:48]
Concerto for Bassoon, Strings and B.C. in F major (possibly JGG
or CHG but likely Christoph GRAUPNER
Concerto for Recorder, Violin, Strings, and B.C. in C major (JGG
or CHG) [9:18]
Concerto for Transverse Flute, 2 Violins and B.C. in E minor (JGG
or CHG) [10:48]
Swanje Hoffman (violin); Petra Müllejans (viola, violin); Christian
Beuse (bassoon); Michael Schneider (recorder); Karl Kaiser (transverse
Capella Academica Frankfurt/Petra Mullejans
rec. Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst, Frankfurt am Main,
24-26 February 2007
CPO 777 321-2 [62:55]
The name Graun is not as well known in musical circles as it
should be, nor even as it once was. It was the surname of three
talented brothers, all born in Wahrenbrück in east-central Germany
and all flourishing in the period between Bach and Beethoven.
A church fire destroyed all record of their birth, hence the
imprecise dates. The oldest, August Friedrich (1698/9 – 1765)
achieved only local distinction, rising to the position of Kantor
and organist at the cathedral school of nearby Merseberg, a
position he held for the last 36 years of his life.
His two younger brothers, represented on this disc, achieved
much broader fame. Johann Gottlieb, a year or so older than
his brother, was engaged in 1726-27 to teach J.S. Bach’s oldest
son Wilhelm Friedemann to play the violin. In 1732 he earned
a position in the orchestra of the then Prussian Crown Prince
Frederick, and rose to the position of director after the prince
was crowned King Frederick II in 1740.
Frederick the Great built the strongest musical centre in all
Europe, and the Graun brothers helped him do it. The youngest,
Carl Heinrich, a professional singer in the town choir at age
10, was soon writing operas and sacred music. He studied at
the University of Leipzig and became a good cellist without
ever studying the instrument. But it was as a singer and opera
composer that he too caught the ear of Frederick the Great.
Graun wrote, and starred in, operas, sometimes to librettos
written by the King.
History has not been kind to the Grauns, as most of their music
seems to have been destroyed. Even what’s left is contentious:
The manuscript for the third piece on this disc has only the
attribution “di Grau..” leading scholars to think it more likely
that Christoph Graupner (1683–1770) wrote it. All the works
on this disc represent some of the best of the orchestral High
Baroque, but that is not what Carl Heinrich Graun was best known
for. Besides his operas, he wrote sacred music, notably Der
Tod Jesu, a passion oratorio that received annual performances
in Germany for 75 years until Mendelssohn conducted Bach’s St.
Matthew Passion in 1829. C. H. Graun’s best known composition
was supplanted forever.
I like the variety of selections on this disc. It begins with
a Symphony, as tuneful and brief as the symphonies of English
contemporary William Boyce. Then follow four concertos for different
combinations of instruments all reminiscent of contemporary
Telemann. All five pieces have a fast-slow-fast pattern, all
feature the gritty sound of baroque strings, and one can hear
in each of the slow movements the background of a basso continuo
(mislabelled in the notes as a ‘bassoon continuo’).
The five pieces here are as close as one is likely to get to
what was heard at the court of Frederick the Great. The performers
are all from the leading Baroque orchestras in and around Germany,
notably the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Camerata Köln, and Concentus
Musicus Wien, and they all teach at the Institute of Historical
Interpretation Practice at the College of Music and the Performing
Arts in Frankfurt am Main. The work of Karl Kaiser on transverse
flute is especially outstanding. The 17 musicians came together
in 2006 and have made three recordings. I hope they introduce
us to more of the Grauns’ music.
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