Ondine and the Finnish Baroque Orchestra have warmed us up to Christoph Graupner with their recording of Orchestral Suites
). This might seem a grander project but with an orchestra numbering teens rather than tens of musicians and plenty of intimate chamber-musical moments in those orchestral works these titles go together like peas in a pod.
Particularly distinctive is the sound of the chalumeau in two of these trios, an instrument which has lent its name to the lower range sound of today’s clarinet. As you might expect, this soft and mellifluous sound is perfectly balanced with the gentle partnership of lute and violin, but it is an unusual colour and one which lends a conversational voice to these pieces. The combination with bassoon in GWV 201
is particularly delicious.
Christoph Graupner is associated with a vast number of cantatas as well as a substantial output of orchestral work, keyboard partitas and chamber music, so this programme is only a small sample of the trios. Searching online this was the only recording currently available of such works by this composer, so I have no comparison material, but with the quality of playing on offer here I don’t feel much need to complain about this situation. The booklet notes tell us that Graupner’s manuscripts were long inaccessible due to a legal dispute but that they are now available for study at the library in Darmstadt University, so it seems likely that there will be more previously unknown music from this source, something which is to be welcomed wholeheartedly.
The musicianship in these performances is exemplary, with continuo harpsichord nicely balanced and played with Germanic restraint, the aforementioned winds projecting with character and plenty of rhythmic precision as well as lyrical expressiveness. The same goes for violin and gamba, and the sweet tone of Perta Aminoff’s flute in GWV 207
deserves mention though Graupner’s endless sequences in the first movement of this trio are not his finest moment.
A contemporary of J.S. Bach, Graupner’s music is allied more closely to that of his friend Telemann, and it is fairly clear how his easy and entertaining sounds made him more popular than Bach, dubbed as ‘parochial’ in the booklet notes and more associated with the church organ loft than in the courtly fashions of the day. Today we enjoy Bach’s transcendent creativity more, but there is much to appreciate in Graupner’s melodic inventiveness and sense of fun. GWV 208
has echoes of Vivaldi in its duelling violins, the changes in instrumentation between sonatas make for a perfect and immaculately recorded programme, and each sonata offers its own inner contrasts and moments of joyous surprise.