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Norman Lebrecht’s Album of the Week – Anonymous Concertos

By (May 27, 2016) No Comment

345326Anonymous: Six concertos

*** (3 of 5)

The best fun I’ve had all week is trying to identify the composers of six 18th century concertos that have turned up in the vaults of the Saxon State University library in Dresden. Five of the concertos are for flute, which suggest a possible Frederick the Great connection, the sixth is for cembalo. All are entertaining, accomplished, professional – top-drawer music for a courtly dinner party. But who wrote them?

The obvious suspects are the Dresden concertmaster Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755) and the singer and composer Carl Heinrich Graun (1704-1759). Both turned out music of high quality and near-memorability but, from what I’ve heard, not quite as high as this.

The Adagio of the opening concerto on this album bears such close resemblance to a Bach theme that if it’s not by Johann Sebastian himself it’s by someone who knew his style well enough to write a simulacrum. Maybe a son of Bach – there were plenty – or a student. Either way, you get the point: this is early-classical music that comes close to the best of its time.

There are numerous hints of Vivaldi, whom all the Germans imitated, Bach most of all. And the longest finger of suspicion points to Telemann, who wrote screeds of music just like this which fell into disuse the moment he died. There is no immediate solution to this authorial mystery, though you’ll have as much fun as I did playing spot the composer. What does emerge is how easy it was in early-classical times to hit a high-average without ever crossing the threshold of genius.

The performers here are Les Amis de Philippe, led from the cembalo by Ludger Rémy.

Norman Lebrecht has written 12 books about music, the most recent being Why Mahler? He hosts the blog Slipped Disc, writes a monthly essay for Standpoint magazine and is writing two more books.

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