Ingratiating Graupner Suites

Review by: David Vernier


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Here’s another composer we would care more about if not for the existence of Bach and Telemann. Although the writer of the disc’s liner notes focuses on the overshadowing influence of his abovementioned contemporaries, Christoph Graupner’s music on this program could most closely be compared with that of Handel’s works in the genre–and still we are left with this Saxon composer’s more workmanlike, less visionary, but always imaginative treatments of melody and attention to the coloristic possibilities of instruments such as viola d’amore, chalumeau, horn, and flute. This is not great or revelatory music–but it is certainly eminently listenable, whether as a pleasant background or as a focus of scrutiny regarding baroque compositional practice.

The beauty of this recording is in the performances, in which the individual musicians, regardless of their attraction to Graupner’s conceptions, play with knowing appreciation of the beauty of the ensemble sonorities and the idiomatic writing for individual instruments. And to be sure, Graupner was not an imitator: these suites reveal much individuality, not only in unusual instrumental combinations, but in the way these instruments are employed, using (sometimes unconventional) rhythmic effects, fugal techniques, and the formal structures of various dances to create works that are agreeably sonorous and thematically rich and satisfying. As an aside, the “Air en Polonese” from the F major suite GWV 450, is one of the more unusual movements in all of these works, something you could imagine as a “Divertissement” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet. In fact, one of the delights of these suites is that you can actually imagine dancers performing the gavottes, sarabandes, menuets, and bourrées.

For whatever reason the Finnish Baroque Orchestra has adopted and embraced these Graupner suites, and we are lucky for that–and Ondine has provided a first-rate sonic environment, from a Finnish church, that captures the individual instrumental  timbres and the unique color-world of the various combinations of baroque horn and chalumeau and viola d’amore and strings. Strongly recommended.

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