Christian Ernst Graf: Five String Quartets

Via Nova Quartett
cpo 777 865-2

There are five works on this CD; three are from the composer’s op. 17 set “à Deux Violons, Taille et Basse” and played with harpsichord continuo, and two quartets without opus number (though given numbers 4 in D and 6 in F), played as string quartets. The booklet notes (which are fine, though all the politcal background to the House of Orange got a little much for me) do not give a date for publication of op. 17, nor whether the “Basse” part has figured bass, which might justify the Via Nova’s choice to add harpsichord – I suppose the record company was responsible for the titling of the CD. (The bass part of his six flute quintets, op. 8, does include figures…)

Be that as it may, the playing on the disc is outstanding – the beautiful sound (especially from the first violinist in the very high passages) is unrivalled in any period instrument playing of this repertoire I have ever heard. The balance between the instruments is exemplary as is the way in which the recording engineer has faithfully captured the whole range of sound. On this evidence, Graf’s chamber music really deserves to be better known – listen to the last track on the disc to hear some really original ideas (unless you count Biber!) I don’t know how much of the final results is down to “good genes” – three members of the five-part quartet are from the same family! I look forward to hearing much more from them.

Brian Clark