SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

“Chalumeaux: CHRISTOPH GRAUPNER: Concertos, Overtures & Sonatas” – Ars Antiqua Austria/ Gunar Letzbor, violin and dir. – Challenge Classics

Graupner is finally getting his due; this disc should help make him better known to music lovers.

Published on January 2, 2013

“Chalumeaux: CHRISTOPH GRAUPNER Concertos, Overtures & Sonatas” = GRAUPNER: Concerto for 2 Chalumeaux, 2 Violins, Viola, and Harpsichord in C Major, GWV 303; Sonata for Obligato Harpsichord and Violin in G Minor, GWV 709; Overture for 3 Chalumeaux, 2 Violins, Viola, and Harpsichord in F Major, GWV 449; Sonata for Harpsichord and Violin in G Minor, GWV 711; Overture for 2 Horns, Timpani, 2 Chalumeaux, 2 Violins, Viola, Bassoon, and Harpsichord in F Major, GWV 452 – Ars Antiqua Austria/ Gunar Letzbor, violin and dir. – Challenge Classics multichannel SACD CC7239, 74:41 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

Like his pupil Freidrich Fasch, Christoph Graupner is finally getting something like his due both in the concert hall and on recordings. In the case of Fasch, the reason why the modern world took longer to catch up with his contribution to music than it did to Vivaldi or Telemann is more of a mystery. As for Graupner’s obscurity, the answer is simple: he worked most of his creative life in a relative musical backwater, the court of Hesse-Darmstadt, not publishing his works but instead leaving them in manuscript. Moreover, his employer, Ernst Ludwig, Landgrave of Darmstadt, refused to give up possession of the manuscripts, so they were preserved, without much chance of performance, in the Court Library. Since Graupner was almost as prolific as his compatriot G. P. Telemann, we can probably look forward to years of Graupner discoveries being committed to disc. (If this review piques your interest, I can also recommend some very fine performances of Graupner by Artichi Strumenti on the Stradivarius label.)

Graupner had ties to others of his great contemporaries, including Handel, who was his violin-playing colleague at the Hamburg Opera; Graupner played harpsichord for the company. And in 1723 he was about to take on the position of Kantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig when the Landgrave upped the ante, offering Graupner the highest salary of any orchestra director at the time. Graupner stayed in Darmstadt; the job in Leipzig went to one J. S. Bach.

The current recording celebrates an instrumental embarrassment of riches at the court, where sometime in the 1730s the orchestra acquired, one after the other, the services of three chalumeau players. The chalumeau is the soft-spoken forerunner of the modern-day clarinet, and its dulcet tones inspired Graupner to write the gentle, serenade-like Overture GWV 449, a sort of Baroque Serenata Notturna. The third movement Air and fifth movement Rejourissance feature pizzicato strings that create an especially delicate air, the whole suite capped by a final Menuet, which shows that Graupner, though stuck in a fairly obscure court, was up-to-the-minute when it came to the use of dance forms in his music. The Overture GWV 452 also includes a minuet, here as the second movement. But the inclusion of horns and timpani makes this an altogether different affair, much heartier, with a generous open-air quality reminiscent of the hunt, a major pastime for the Landgrave. Both works are very appealing.

Like the Overture GWV 449, the Concerto is less demonstrative but no less attractive. Perhaps the oddest inclusion on the disc is the two sonatas for harpsichord and violin. For one thing, they’re probably not by Graupner at all though they’re in his hand. Instead, the evidence is they were copied by him for study. The original composers are unknown, but since both works are cast in the old-fashioned four-movement (slow-fast-slow-fast) sonata da chiesa form, they probably come from an earlier day than Graupner’s prime. The Sonata in F is highly contrapuntal and doesn’t give the harpsichord very much to do except thump away at swirling runs. The Sonata in G Minor is more interesting, with a tender Italianate third movement and surprisingly, a Menuet finale, which suggests it’s a later work than the other sonata.

Despite the fact that I wish Ars Antiqua Austria had included more of Graupner’s orchestral music rather than the two chamber pieces, this is an excellent and revelatory program, wetting my appetite for more of Graupner’s music. The playing of the small band, including the three chalumeau players (Ernst Schlader, Markus Springer, and Christian Leitherer), is stylish, while the recording is mellow and atmospheric. However, in the Concerto GWV 449, the horns and timpani sound as if they’re playing in another room. Perhaps they are set back at a remove from the chalumeaux and strings, but I’m going to assume this odd balance stems from the recording venue, the Monastery of St. Florian near Linz. The Monastery has a storied musical history (Bruckner was a chorister and later organist there and is even buried in its vault, directly underneath the organ!), but I wish the engineers had chosen a less lively hall for the recording of the concerto. This gripe doesn’t amount to much, however, in light of the music and performances on offer here. If you’re already a Graupner initiate, you’ll want this disc; if you’re not, this is a very good place to start an acquaintanceship.

—Lee Passarella




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