Notes and Editorial Reviews
Trios for Violin/Viola and Clavier: in A,
; in B?,
; in A,
; in b,
Les Amis de Philippe
CPO 777 633 (68:24)
One will probably notice in the title that I have not been specific as to which of the prolific Graun brother, Carl Heinrich or Johann
Gottlieb, wrote these pieces. To make matters more complex, these works are part of a collection of chamber works found in a Dresden manuscript that has “trios” in the title, but these four works are in reality duo sonatas for either violin or viola and obbligato keyboard, here performed by conductor Ludger Rémy on the fortepiano. In untangling this Gordian knot, one should note that these works were originally trios (hence the retention of the designation), since what one presumes was their original form exists in other sources. As to who wrote them, the situation is even murkier (although there are of course only two possibilities, with a 50-50 chance of being correct), as the styles in these works are reflective of both men. My personal choice would be Johann Gottlieb Graun, based simply upon the fact that he favored the violin and viola in both concertante and solo works, but this is only the most cursory of guesses on my part based upon my own bias, and the third work, the second one in A Major, opens with a long keyboard introduction and a rather more virtuoso violin part that is quite reminiscent of Johann Quantz, and so I might be tempted to assign this one to Carl Heinrich.
Be all of this as it may, there is no doubt that the music represents solid compositional technique. For the most part, the bulk of the harmony is carried by the keyboard, while the violin (and viola) rarely traverse their ranges with the usual virtuoso leaps and bounds. The composer keeps his violin/viola in a solid middle range, opting for contrast and depth rather than display. Three of the four works are arranged in an old-fashioned order, with a slow movement followed by two faster ones, the last usually some sort of dance tempo derivative. There are emotional depths to be plumbed here, especially in the haunting fragmented theme of the second A-Major Trio, or the long, lyrical lines of the first movement of the B?-Trio. The composer can also be strict, as in the second movement fugue of the B-Minor Trio, which contrasts in its severity with the mysterious lament of the opening movement. There is more than a bit of C. P. E. Bach in the figuration of the third movement of the first A-Major Trio, with its neat vacillation between duplets and triplets in both parts. Both instruments in each trio are used as equal partners, and in the second movement of the first A-Major Trio, as well as the nice parallel thirds in sequence in the second trio in the same key, the sonorities are calculated to match, rather than being contrasting. These are the types of works that any reputable chamber musician of the time would find a delight to play, as players must cooperate intimately to make them work, and at the same time would be pleasing to the ears of their knowledgeable audiences.
Les amis de Philippe is conductor Ludger Rémy’s group of people whom he gathers around himself to perform such chamber works. Here, he uses violinist Anne Schumann and violist Eva Salonen, both of whom use a similar tone that is fairly rich and dark. This blends nicely with the softer sounds of the fortepiano, a choice made by Rémy that lends these works a slightly more modern (read, Classical era) interpretation. One might suggest that a harpsichord might have been more “authentic,” but I find that the textures speak better with the fortepiano. The original sources, of course, are generic, and there is nothing that would argue against Rémy’s choice. The only bobble I can detect is when Schumann’s violin enters into some of the upper registers; here there is an occasional scratch and squeal, which would probably be unremarkable had not Graun chosen to set most of the music for the violin/viola in the lower and middle portions of their range.
In short these trio arrangements function quite well on their own, and indeed demonstrate that whichever of the brothers wrote them was quite cognizant of how the music could unfold. These performances too render this disc a good addition to any collection of 18th-century chamber music. The playing is excellent and the musicality of the works shows that they are not just museum reference pieces, but real flesh and blood contributions to the sensitive style of the period. Recommended.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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