GEORG WILHELM GRUBER: Concerti per fortepiano = Concerto primo in D; Sonata IV in D; Concerto secundo in F – Arthur Schoonderwoerd, fortepiano/ Ensemble Cristofori – Pan Classics PC 10231, 50:42 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Gruber (1729-1796) was a pivotal figure in the Nurnberg school where he served as a bridge into the next generation of German composers. He outlived Mozart by a few years but was born well before him, inheriting the tail-end of the age of Bach and Handel. Highly educated, he was also somewhat obsessive, particularly after he decided to concentrate solely on music, often shutting himself up for weeks at a time to practice violin, piano, and composition. His teacher was Cornelius Heinrich Dretzel, himself a pupil of the great Bach, so that Gruber because fast acquainted with the keyboard methods of the master. Most of his life was spent in Nurnberg, and rarely was his music (the vast majority of it lost) heard outside those confines. His dedication to his hometown was profound, and all his activities centered there, which might explain his relative obscurity. Nevertheless he was prolific, completing five oratorios and cantatas, 60 German and Latin psalms, songs and arias to texts by popular poets, 3 harpsichord concertos, quartets, trios, duos and solos for violin and piano, French horn concertos, sextets for wind instruments, flute duets and other individual works.
Here we have two of the “harpsichord” concertos, though at the time the fortepiano was also beginning to assume that role and it is highly probable that it was chosen in these particular works. One reason might be the instrumentation of the D-major; flutes are used instead of oboes, coupled with horns, which give the whole an unusual and softer flavor especially suited to the new keyboard instrument. The Second Concerto is more conventional yet maintains the same effervescent keyboard writing and orchestral interaction as the First. The Sonata is for three instruments (keyboard, violin, cello), very standard yet only 30 years after the death of Bach, and a noticeably eclectic piece straddling two different eras. All the pieces are very nicely crafted and thoroughly enjoyable, proving the composer to be someone whose talent very easily could have taken him internationally had he wished.
The performances are excellent, the sound clear and close, though I could wish for more music, especially from a composer we aren’t too familiar with.