Johann Gottlieb Graun, Carl Heinrich Graun: Concerti

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The name Graun is not as well known in musical circles as it should be, nor even as it once was. It was the surname of three talented brothers, all born in Wahrenbrück in east-central Germany and all flourishing in the period between Bach and Beethoven. A church fire destroyed all record of their birth, hence the imprecise dates. The oldest, August Friedrich (1698/9 – 1765) achieved only local distinction, rising to the position of Kantor and organist at the cathedral school of nearby Merseberg, a position he held for the last 36 years of his life.

His two younger brothers, represented on this disc, achieved much broader fame. Johann Gottlieb, a year or so older than his brother, was engaged in 1726-27 to teach J.S. Bach’s oldest son Wilhelm Friedemann to play the violin. In 1732 he earned a position in the orchestra of the then Prussian Crown Prince Frederick, and rose to the position of director after the prince was crowned King Frederick II in 1740.

Frederick the Great built the strongest musical centre in all Europe, and the Graun brothers helped him do it. The youngest, Carl Heinrich, a professional singer in the town choir at age 10, was soon writing operas and sacred music. He studied at the University of Leipzig and became a good cellist without ever studying the instrument. But it was as a singer and opera composer that he too caught the ear of Frederick the Great. Graun wrote, and starred in, operas, sometimes to librettos written by the King.

History has not been kind to the Grauns, as most of their music seems to have been destroyed. Even what’s left is contentious: The manuscript for the third piece on this disc has only the attribution “di Grau..” leading scholars to think it more likely that Christoph Graupner (1683–1770) wrote it. All the works on this disc represent some of the best of the orchestral High Baroque, but that is not what Carl Heinrich Graun was best known for. Besides his operas, he wrote sacred music, notably Der Tod Jesu, a passion oratorio that received annual performances in Germany for 75 years until Mendelssohn conducted Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in 1829. C. H. Graun’s best known composition was supplanted forever.

I like the variety of selections on this disc. It begins with a Symphony, as tuneful and brief as the symphonies of English contemporary William Boyce. Then follow four concertos for different combinations of instruments all reminiscent of contemporary Telemann. All five pieces have a fast-slow-fast pattern, all feature the gritty sound of baroque strings, and one can hear in each of the slow movements the background of a basso continuo (mislabelled in the notes as a ‘bassoon continuo’).

The five pieces here are as close as one is likely to get to what was heard at the court of Frederick the Great. The performers are all from the leading Baroque orchestras in and around Germany, notably the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Camerata Köln, and Concentus Musicus Wien, and they all teach at the Institute of Historical Interpretation Practice at the College of Music and the Performing Arts in Frankfurt am Main. The work of Karl Kaiser on transverse flute is especially outstanding. The 17 musicians came together in 2006 and have made three recordings. I hope they introduce us to more of the Grauns’ music.

-- Paul Kennedy, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777321-2

  • UPC: 761203732128

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Johann Gottlieb Graun

  • Conductor: Petra Müllejans

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Cappella Academica Frankfurt

  • Performer: Christian Beuse, Michael Schneider, Petra Müllejans, Swantje Hoffmann