Graf: Sonaten für Violine and Basso continuo

Anne Schumann violin, Klaus Voigt viola da spalla, Sebastian Knebel harpsichord

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Recorded in the pleasingly resonant acoustic of the Weinbergkirche Dresden, these six violin sonatas by the Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt court composer, Johannes Graf powerfully demonstrate the very high standards of music-making at regional courts of early 18th-century Germany. A near contemporary and friend of Telemann, Graf exhibits the former’s endlessly inventive imagination, at the same time defying categorisation as belonging to the school of Schmelzer or Biber. Consistently Italianate in flavour and regularly evoking the spirit of Vivaldi, these engaging pieces are played with great mastery by this gifted ensemble. Playing an 18th-century violin by Leopold Widhalm of Nürnberg, Anne Schumann produces a gleaming tone which adds extra power to her eloquent performances, while she is very ably supported by Klaus Voigt and Sebastian Knebel. Voigt plays a viola da spalla, a modern copy by André Mehler of Leipzig of an original instrument of 1730 by J C Hoffmann. Although it is hard to imagine from its rich bass tone, the viola da spalla is a relatively small instrument, played across the chest and held in position by a strap around the back. Perhaps an offshoot of the bowed continuo instruments of the previous century provided with a slot in their backs to house a toggle, permitting them to be carried and played in procession, the viola da spalla seems like the solution to any number of cello issues! These performances are exciting and wonderfully musical, and make a strong case for the importance in the history of music for solo violin of this nowadays practically unknown composer.

D. James Ross

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