WORKS: Trios for Two Violins and Basso Continuo
PERFORMER: Les Amis de Philippe
CATALOGUE NO: 999 623-2
Johann Gottlieb Graun and his brother Carl Heinrich were among the first musicians to enjoy the patronage of Crown Prince Frederick, later Frederick the Great. They entered his service in 1732, taking part in chamber concerts which were kept secret from Frederick’s father for whom such events were classified as effeminate pursuits. This new release from CPO features five Trio Sonatas by Johann Gottlieb, written at various times in his life. Many of Graun’s Trios are insecure from an authentic standpoint, some perhaps having been written by his brother. Those assembled here are, in all probability, genuine products of his pen. They are skilfully composed pieces which embrace the ‘galant’ pre-Classical idiom of the mid-18th century. Performances presumably took place initially at Frederick’s various musical soirées, but they quickly became known further afield and were evidently played at the Dresden court where Graun’s teacher and mentor Pisendel was leader of the orchestra.
Each trio is scored for two violins, cello and harpsichord. Les Amis de Philippe sound very much at one with Graun’s ‘mixed’, transitional idiom, enlivening the music with a strong rhythmic pulse and warm responses to the many alluring melodic contours. It may not be memorable music, but it is never less than entertaining and there are moments, as in the opening Adagio of the C minor Trio, of brooding expressive intensity. String tone is warm, by and large, and the playing evenly textured and lightly bowed. In short, here is a thoroughly amiable and well-prepared programme, none of whose music had been previously familiar to me. Nicholas Anderson