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Sunday, June 21, 2015

PROGRAM SCHEDULE  •  SUN 21  •  MON 22  •  WED 24  •  FRI 26  •  SUN 28

St. Mark Presbyterian Church, 4 p.m.

Baroque Concertos:
A Tale of Two Johanns

Judith Linsenberg, recorder
Kathryn Montoya, oboe
Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin
Kathryn James Adduci, trumpet

Ian Pritchard, harpsichord

Festival Orchestra
Elizabeth Blumenstock, leader


Johann Gottlieb Graun (1703-1771)
Sinfonia in D major, GraunWV A:XII:6

Allegro di molto
Andante
Allegro


Johann Gottlieb Graun (1703-1771)
Concerto in C major, GraunWV Cv:XIII:96
for recorder and violin

Allegro
Adagio
Allegro


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Concerto in C minor, BWV 1060
for oboe and violin

Allegro
Adagio
Allegro

Intermission


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048

Violin:  Elizabeth Blumenstock ·  Jolianne von Einem ·  Janet Worsley Strauss
Viola:  Rob Diggins ·  Andrew McIntosh · Ramón Negrón
Violoncello:  Gretchen Claassen ·  Heather Vorwerck ·  Leif Woodward

[Allegro]
Adagio
Allegro


Johann Gottlieb Graun (1703-1771)
Concerto in G minor, GraunWV C:XIII:89
for violin, strings and continuo

Allegro ma poco
Adagio
Molto allegro


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047

[Allegro]
Andante
Allegro assai

Reception on the Patio


In our first and last Festival programs this year, we are pairing music of J. S. Bach with music of two composers, Johann Gottlieb Graun and Carl Heinrich Graun — brothers whose names have been all but forgotten, though they were both well known and greatly admired during their lifetimes. The music of the younger brother, Carl Heinrich, who was known principally as an opera composer, will be featured in the final concert. And as you will observe, the curious and influential figure of Frederick the Great of Prussia also runs through our concerts as a sort of subsidiary theme. Both of the Brothers Graun worked for the monarch, Johann Gottlieb as a violinist at Frederick’s court in Potsdam, and ultimately as concertmaster of the Berlin Opera (founded by Frederick around 1740), and Carl Heinrich as Kapellmeister at the Potsdam court and also in Berlin at the Opera.

Johann Gottlieb Graun was born in Wahrenbrück in 1703 and studied violin with two of the greatest virtuosi of the High Baroque, Johann Georg Pisendel in Dresden and Giuseppe Tartini in Padua. His first employment as concertmaster, at the tender age of 23, was in Merseburg. His reputation must already have been excellent; J.S. Bach, who worked in nearby Leipzig at that time, sent his talented eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, then 16 years old, to study with him.

Known best for his instrumental writing, Graun composed at least 70 (likely many more) concertos for various instruments, including, rather unusually, bassoon and viola da gamba. In style, the concertos are Italianate, which by this time (1726–1750?) means relatively light and occasionally galant. The difference between his style and that of J.S. Bach as heard in this program, should be fairly evident; Bach’s concertos are much denser texturally, more contrapuntal, and, dare I say, thematically more coherent and concise. That venerable and astute observer of the 18th-century music scene, Charles Burney, wrote, “In his concertos and church music... the length of each movement is more immoderate than Christian patience can endure.” Lest that damn Graun excessively, be it noted that in the previous paragraph, Burney also wrote, “his concertos are masterpieces.”

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We open our program with Graun’s Sinfonia in D major. Both the first and last movements are simple, lightweight — the first could easily function as the overture to a comic operetta. It is the middle movement that is most affectually interesting. With its odd, snappy, back-dotted rhythms and minor-key eccentricity, it recalls— no, presages— C.P.E. Bach’s “sensitive style,” and even reminds one of Haydn in his more eccentric pianistic mode. The third movement also seems pianistic, and sounds a bit like Domenico Scarlatti in a rare tame mood. While Bach (who was, towards the end of the Baroque period, derided for his complexity, difficulty and density) has endured as a towering master of his own epoch, Graun achieved a different sort of immortality — disappearing from public consciousness but nonetheless inspiring the early Classical composers, most of whom undoubtedly heard his music in their impressionable years. BACK

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Graun’s Concerto in C major for Recorder and Violin appears to be the only concerto for this combination of soloists ever written — quite surprising, given the popularity of both these instruments. At 10 minutes, it is also very likely the shortest of all of his concertos, most of which run between 18 and 24 minutes. The first and last movements are simply fun, bright and accessible, full of playfulness; as in the Sinfonia, it is the unusual slow movement that is the standout. With its mournful character, peculiar phrase lengths and strangely modal harmonies, this movement actually sounds in parts as though it could be based on some remote Eastern European folk music. BACK

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What a contrast in style and character between this double concerto and the next one, Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin! Far more ambitious in scope, and offering one of Bach’s most beautiful slow movements, this piece nonetheless presents some problems for performers. The solo writing for the oboe is generally very well fitted to that instrument, but that for the violin is often too low for easy projection. Since this version is a reconstruction of a lost original based on the surviving version for two harpsichords, one could wonder if the second part was originally written for some other instrument. However, the nature of the figuration is ideally suited to the violin; no wind instrument could negotiate it beautifully, and the low range of the part would be even more problematic for winds than it is for the violin in terms of projection.

This balance issue is most evident in the first movement, with frequent interjections from the orchestra muddying the textural waters. In the gorgeous, elegiac slow movement, the orchestra is cut back to mere rhythmic-harmonic wallpaper, allowing the two equal solo parts to soar and intertwine with perfect clarity. While the orchestra returns to its frequent vociferous interjections in the final Allegro, much of the violin writing is liberated into a higher range, permitting easier projection. BACK

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Bach wrote his immensely appealing six Brandenburg Concertos as a bid for employment (unsuccessful) with the Margrave of Brandenburg. Their remarkably diverse solo orchestration is an enormous part of their charm, but Bach’s attempt at writing relatively light-hearted but still virtuoso music (successful!) is also a key element of their popularity.

Brandenburg III features an utterly unique lineup of three violins, three violas, and three cellos, all of whom take turns as soloists; there is no backup orchestra separate from the solo parts. It is also virtually unique in possessing the most truncated slow movement ever: just two chords! This could be an invitation to an improvised florid cadenza; we’ll see. BACK

Brandenburg II boasts one representative from every major Baroque instrumental family except keyboards and plucked instruments: trumpet, recorder, oboe and violin. This is a good example of a piece possibly more successful in performance on period instruments than on their modern counterparts, due to the better balance among these instruments. Trumpets, oboes, and violins were all modified to become louder after the Baroque era, while the relatively soft recorder, not amenable to restructuring for more volume, simply died out until the popular revival of old instruments began in the mid-20th century. The result is that performances of this piece on modern instruments generally leave the recorder nearly eclipsed.

The melancholy and lovely slow movement kindly provides the hard-working trumpeter a respite between her pair of mighty exertions in the outer movements. The trumpet part is still regarded as among the most challenging in any period of music. BACK

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The Violin Concerto in G Minor nicely exhibits Graun’s composerly range and considerable abilities as a violinist. There is plenty of the requisite Vivaldi-esque flashy figuration, but his galant, eccentric and expressive side is also on display. I found that he wrote a few relatively easy violin concertos, but many more phenomenally difficult ones; he may have had hands like Paganini (who many experts believe suffered from Marfan’s Syndrome, in which connective tissue abnormalities provide extreme extension and flexibility), as many of these more-difficult concertos feature double-stops in 10ths and even 12ths, which are simply unreachable by my hand! (Grrr.) The concerto I chose is still closer to the difficult end of the spectrum! BACK

Notes by Elizabeth Blumenstock

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