“Viola,” and Viola Concertos by C. P. E. Bach & Graun

“Viola,” and Viola Concertos by C. P. E. Bach & Graun

You read “viola” with air quotes, didn't you? And quite rightly! The first piece here is a Cello Concerto by C. P. E. Bach (Carl Philipp Emanuel) Bach, 1714-1788, J. S.'s most forward-looking son, arranged by the soloist, Mathis Rochat, for viola and orchestra. It is followed by two works by Johann Gottlieb Graun (1703-1771), a composer we have already featured on a couple of occasions:

Here's the excellent trailer for this album:

Swiss violist Mathis Rochat himself calls the C. P. E. Bach transcription a "somewhat audacious transcription", but the range of the solo part fits the viola well. Which had to be proven first! Indeed, the young Swiss artist lends the "higher-pitched" composition a power of momentum and elasticity from which the already supple, melodious music can only benefit.

The first movement is full of those angular dotted rhythms so characteristic of C.P.E.; here, they stretch over to the second movement, an Adagio (taken here with the right momentum), a movement of true unpredictability, one moment try interior, the next suddenly scampering.

Below is a performance of the original cello version: Tim Hugh with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta under Richard Studt. No doubting the cpo performance is more historically informed, but this gives you an idea of how swapping the cello for viola alters the overall tenor of the work slightly:

Previous Classical Explorer posts on C. P. E. include The Curious World of C. P. E. Bach (String Symphonies on Harmonia Mundi), the miraculous Der Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu on Passacaille (worth following the link just for the humour of the cover!) , and C. P. E.'s Magnificat, also on the cpo label.

Although the promotional copy for this disc describes the C. P. E. concerto as a “superb overture” to the next two pieces, I can't help hearing it as far more than that, a magnificent work in itself. These are two pieces by Johann Gottlieb Graun (1703-1771) - brother of Carl Heinrich, whose opera Polydorus, also on cpo, we featured on Classical Explorer here. One can hear real parallels between Johann's style and that or C. P. E.'s here.

Both works are, in the words of the booklet, “awakened from the archives” here. The first of the two works is a Concertante (given as Koncertante in the notes but Concertante on the back cover) in C Minor (the Graun catalogue is “Graun WV” - Graun Werke Verzeichnis, or Graun Work Catalogue, and this is Graun WV A:XIII:3). Rochat is joined by Stephen Waarts for this magical work. There appears to be no mention about the cadenza in the first movement, short but highly effective, but one assumes it was written by one of the soloists. Nothing can quite prepare one for the central “Adagio con sordino” (Adagio with mutes, for both soloists), a lament for two instrumental voices of the utmost power. The finale is bright and breezy, but far from insubstantial: all movements of this concerto are around the seven or eight minute mark. The sense of conversation between soloists in this finale is remarkable. This is Graun's only composition with string orchestra.

The Viola Concerto in E flat (Graun WV A;XIII:3) is the epitome of Rococo charm, the Camerata Schweiz perfectly drilled in the opening orchestral explsition to the first movement. Rochat, a Professor of Viola a the Royal Conservatoire, Antwerp, plays superbly, rich-toned in his lower register, beautifully in tune and agile higher up. This is music of grace and energy, with a lyrical side that is most touching. The Adagio un poco andante flows beautifully, echoing phrases whispering softly in the orchestra, Howard Griffiths shaping the phrases perfectly; in response Rochat's viola sings its song with real vocal legato; decorations are superbly delivered. This movement is arguably the highlight of the disc. The finale fizzes with energy under Griffiths' baton - and Rochat's dexterity is remarkable. A fine work, in a beautiful performance.

The cpo disc of Viola Concertos is available for purchase at Amazon here (12% off at that link); Tim Hugh's Naxos disc is available here.