Il Gardellino

J.G. Graun, C.H. Graun: Concerti

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Johann Gottlieb Graun and his slightly younger brother Carl Heinrich Graun both worked in the Berlin-based court of Frederick the Great, whose musical cabinet also included Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Superficially, the music of the Grauns can seem similar enough that in terms of attribution, their works are often confused, particularly when "Graun" is the only name provided on a given manuscript. Curiously, at least concerning the track listing, Accent does not try to identify which of the four concerti on their Graun: Concerti belong to Johann Gottlieb and which to Carl Heinrich. When one gets a little deeper into the notes, the truth is known -- the first concerto, in A major for viola da gamba is by Johann Gottlieb, and the other three are the work of Carl Heinrich. A general rule of thumb regarding this pair is that both are early Classical period composers, with Johann Gottlieb taking a route more akin to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in his use of expressive effects, and Carl Heinrich pursuing a more conspicuously galant route in the manner of Johann Christian Bach. Given the dark and stony sobriety of the E minor flute concerto here attributed to Carl Heinrich, this rule does not apply in necessarily every case.

The highpoints here are the viola da gamba concerto of Johann Gottlieb and the Concerto grosso of Carl Heinrich. The first work makes use of some quirky transitions and has a rather erratic rhythmic profile; it is highly original. It is also highly difficult to play, and while it doesn't appear that soloist Vittorio Ghielmi has the piece under his fingers 100 percent of the time, it is still an admirable effort -- cellists will be jealous. The Concerto grosso, which is in G and scored for flute, violin, gamba, cello in solo roles, was one of the most popular works of its day judging from the high volume of eighteenth-century manuscript copies that still exist of it. It is easy to see why this piece found such wide circulation, as it is stable, melodious, and makes very effective use of the solo instruments.

The main drawback of this disc is the sound. While it is reasonably clear and has a nice sense of stereo spread, it is thin and doesn't have much in the way of bottom end; if it weren't for the obviously digital top end you'd think this was a stereo recording from 1961. The playing by Il Gardellino is loose and at times might seem sloppy, but it also has a slightly jazzy sense of syncopation that is far preferable to the rigid interpretative style typically accorded to such works in the 1970s. The disc's strengths outweigh its shortcomings, and those listeners attentive to the works of the Grauns might well celebrate, and not just enjoy, the advent of Accent's Graun: Concerti.

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