Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760)
Concerto in C major, GWV 303 [11:45]
Sonata in G minor, GWV 709 [8:54]
Ouverture in F major, GWV 449 [28:14]
Sonata in G minor, GWV 711 [10:46]
Ouverture in F major, GWV 452 [14:59]
Ars Antiqua Austria/Gunar Letzbor
rec. 10-13 November 2011, Stift St. Florian bei Linz an der Donau
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72539 SACD [74:41]
Although the booklet notes for this release begin on the subject of his comparative
lack of fame when compared with his contemporaries J.S. Bach or J.J. Fux, you
only have to pop his name into the search function of this site to see he is
becoming reasonably well represented in recordings. The booklet notes also mention
the recording location, which takes the historical view that this kind of music
is heard best in “quite small rooms in private palaces”. There need
be no fears that the acoustic here reflect a stuffy 18th century
closet however, and the proportions of the music are very nicely represented
in a non-cavernous but respectably airy space which is more ballroom than bedroom.
The chalumeau is a single-reed wind instrument which is seen as the forerunner
of the clarinet. It was probably developed as an improvement on the recorder,
and has the appearance of one which has been beefed up with a clarinet mouthpiece.
It was popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, and as this collection of works
shows, harpsichordist and composer Christoph Graupner was impressed by what
at the time would have been a new instrument. The sound is to the clarinet as
the natural horn is to the modern French horn - in other words, a good deal
softer though still with plenty of dynamic range, but with comparable limitations
in terms of range of key, and some ‘issues’ when it comes to tuning.
All of this adds to the heightened authentic effect of these pieces and I greatly
appreciate this sound.
This is an excellent programme which is full of life and variety. Starting with
the Concerto GWV 303 we have a marvellous opportunity to zoom in on the
mellow sound of these ‘funny’ clarinets, with a duet of chalumeaux
showing the best sides of the instrument, with sprightly rhythms in the opening
Vivace and energetically Italianate final Allegro,and a
charming cantata-style second movement Andante over pizzicato strings.
The chalumeau works are contrasted with two sonatas for harpsichord and violin,
the origins of which are in doubt. They appear in Graupner’s hand, but
it was his and others’ practise to copy works by other composers, and
these works remain anonymous. They are both in four movement church sonata form
and highly agreeable, though would never have shocked the musical world to its
core. Gunar Letzbor’s violin playing is full of character and gestural
narrative, and with equally keenly observed performances from harpsichord player
Norbert Zeilberger these sonatas are raised well above pot-boiler status.
The Overture in F major is a rich gallery of music both stately and animated,
the work being an eight movement suite including dances and character pieces.
The mixture of strings, a battery of 3 chalumeaux and organ continuo is exciting
in the jaunty Air, intriguing and enigmatic in Le Desire, the
whole sequence framed by formal dance movements which introduce and restore
civilisation and order after all that wide leaping and amorosa shenanigans.
Also great fun is the Overture GWV 452 which adds healthily thwacked
drums, horns and a throaty bassoon to the mix: a kind of indoor fireworks music,
but no doubt advisable to be played with the windows open in case the rough
noises should prove overwhelming. There are some tremendous harmonic scrunches
in the penultimate Tempo di Sarabande and the whole thing is a genuine
romp, though one has to be grateful that not the entire programme consists of
With cracking good SACD sonics and well written and informative booklet notes,
this is an exemplary early music recording and well worth adding to any collection.
Graupner may have been somewhat isolated in Darmstadt, but he was certainly
no slouch when it came to turning out entertaining music, and so it’s
hats off to the Kapellmeister and Ars Antiqua Austria for bringing us such a
fine and festive feast of gustative goodness.
A fine and festive feast of gustative goodness.