It is only recently that two seemingly unconnected names, those of Vivaldi and the viola da gamba, have been uttered in the same breath. The established, uncontested view on the matter was quite simply this: from the middle of the 17th century, the viol, which was still flourishing north of the Alps, had all but disappeared in Italy, where it had been replaced by the bass violin and, subsequently, by the cello.
Fifteen years after his recording of Bach’s three Sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord (on hm, with Rinaldo Alessandrini), Paolo Pandolfo returns to this repertoire a new approach: the fruit of active and concentrated years of consideration, study and research into the inherent possibilities of his instrument. Given the basic differing natures of these two instruments, the performance of these works very often turns – in Pandolfo’s words – into a “musical argument”, rather than what is demanded by the music’s essential nature: a “musical conversation” in which the score achieves “transparency and eloquence”.
Johann Gottlieb Graun (27 October 1703 – 28 October 1771) was a German Baroque/Classical era composer and violinist, born in Wahrenbrück. (His brother Carl Heinrich was a singer and also a composer, and indeed is the better known of the two.)
Johann Gottlieb studied with J.G. Pisendel in Dresden and Giuseppe Tartini in Padua. Appointed Konzertmeister in Merseburg in 1726, he taught the violin to J.S. Bach's son Wilhelm Friedemann. He joined the court of the Prussian crown prince (the future Frederick the Great) in 1732 and was made Konzertmeister of the Berlin Opera in 1740…
Over the years I have heard many recordings of music written for the Imperial court in Vienna. That’s no wonder: Vienna was a centre of music-making in Europe. During the 17th and 18th centuries some of the best musicians and composers were in the service of the Habsburg emperors. Most of the recordings concentrate on music for violins or voice. This disc is different in that it presents music for viol consort. That’s all the more interesting, as it is often thought that in the 17th century consort music was only written in France and England. It is quite surprising that this kind of music was also written in Austria. Most musicians in the service of the Imperial court were from Italy, where the viol consort had gone out of fashion since the first quarter of the 17th century. The fact that Italian composers wrote music for viol consort was due to the personal preferences of the emperors, Ferdinand III and Leopold I, who also wrote some music for this kind of ensemble themselves.
If you have any doubt that the fipple flute is an acceptable substitute for the specified transverse one in these works, this recording could allay it. What is lost is the warm, intimate, breathy, pitch-bending sound of the minimally-keyed wooden instrument, but what is gained is the luculent clarity and (in Petri's hands) spot-on accuracy of the recorder. Instruments at period pitch (which for her own good reasons Petri does not use) would restore some of the warmth, but rarely can you have everything—and here you have so much to be grateful for.
For starters, there are no bagpipes on this weird and wonderful mix of 17th- and 18th-century music arranged for lute, ceterone, viola da gamba, and lyra viol. But the playing by Vittorio Ghielmi and Luca Pianca (founder of the Giardino Armonico ensemble) on Bagpipes from Hell will have you fooled that something wheezy is at work here. It's an odd mix of dances, including jigs, and folk-inspired numbers […] that somehow blends the droning elements of bagpipes and hurdy-gurdy with the intricate delicacy of baroque composition […] and the playing throughout is intense and exquisitely recorded. (Jason Verlinde)