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
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 such pieces.
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.
Dominy Clements
A fine and festive feast of gustative goodness.