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Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760): "Gott der Herr ist Sonne und Schild - Epiphanias-Kantaten" (Epiphany Cantatas)

Andrea Lauren Brown, soprano; Kai Wessel, alto; Georg Poplutz, tenor; Dominik Wörner, bass
Kirchheimer BachConsort
Dir: Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen-Pilch

rec: Jan 7 - 8, 2017 (live), Kirchheim/Weinstraße, Protestantische Kirche
CPO - 555 146-2 (2 CDs) (© 2017) (1.32'28")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Die Wasserwogen im Meer sind groß (GWV 1115/35); Erwacht, ihr Heiden (GWV 111/34); Gott der Herr ist Sonne und Schild (GWV 1113/54); Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (GWV 1114/30); Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (GWV 1114/43)

Marc Hantaï, transverse flute, flauto dámore; Martin Stadler, oboe, oboe d'amore; Christian Leitherer, chalumeau; Olivier Picon, Thomas Müller, horn; Irina Kisselova, violin; Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen-Pilch, violin, viola d'amore; Éva Posvanecz, viola; Balász Máté, cello; Robert Sagasser, violone; Peter Kranefoed, harpsichord; Andreas Gräsle, harpsichord, organ

Georg Philipp Telemann is generally considered the most prolific composer of the 18th century. His oeuvre includes around 1,400 sacred cantatas. The production of his colleague and friend Christoph Graupner in this department is equally impressive, as he composed about the same number of cantatas. He did so in his capacity as court composer in Darmstadt, where he worked from 1709 until his death, from 1711 as Kapellmeister. However, during the last six years of his life he did not compose anymore, as he had lost is eyesight. The present production includes his last sacred cantata: Gott, der Herr, ist Sonne und Schild, which was written for the second Sunday after Epiphany, and was performed at 20 January 1754.

This set of two discs presents five cantatas for the period which immediately follows Christmastide: Sunday Epiphany and the next four Sundays. This recording does not include a cantata for the first Sunday after Epiphany.

If one looks at the scoring of these cantatas, one immediately notices some interesting features, which are in strong contrast to the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach. The first is that Graupner regularly gives obbligato parts to some instruments, which were relatively seldom used in his time. The best-known of them is the viola d'amore, which was already used in the 17th century, but was not very common, either in vocal or in instrumental music. Hardly known, not even in our time, is the flauto d'amore, probably better known with its French name flûte d'amour. In New Grove we read: "Flute usually pitched in A, a minor 3rd below the concert flute. J.M. Molter (1696 - 1765) wrote a concerto in B for flûte d'amour and Christoph Graupner (1683–1760) included the instrument in five cantatas and a triple concerto in G for flûte d'amour, oboe d'amour and viola d'amour." Bach never used it and even in the oeuvre of Telemann, who composed for any instrument of his time, it never appears in any composition. The third instrument is the chalumeau; in Graupner's time that was a relatively new instrument. It was developed in the late 17th century, and according to Colin Lawson, in New Grove, it was the result of attempts to increase the volume of sound produced by the recorder. In Germany Graupner and Telemann were the main composers of music for the chalumeau. Graupner composed several orchestral suites with parts for one to three chalumeaus, and he also included it in some of his cantatas. In contrast, Bach never wrote music for the chalumeau.

The second notable feature of Graupner's cantatas - at least those performed here - is the dominance of the soprano and the bass in the allocation of the arias. In neither of them the alto and the tenor have an aria; they participate in some of the recitatives, and in Was Gott thut, das ist wohlgethan (GWV 1114/30) they sing a duet. This is not that hard to explain. Graupner's employer, Landgrave Ernst Ludwig, had engaged him in 1709, with the explicit aim of regular performances of operas, like those in Hamburg. To that end he also engaged the leading soprano of the Leipzig Opera, Elisabeth Döbricht, in 1711. "At an absolutist court, the prince could disregard the ban on female performers in church, and Graupner thus had at his disposal an especially accomplished soprano for his sacred music", Corinna Wörner states in her liner-notes. It is therefore likely that the upper parts were not intended for trebles or adult Diskantisten, in contrast to those in Bach's and Telemann's cantatas. Graupner had also a particularly good bass at his disposal, in the person of Gottfried Grünewald, who was also his deputy Kapellmeister. Graupner knew him from his time in Leipzig and in Hamburg. In the latter's opera he often sang bass parts. Johann Mattheson, in his Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte of 1740, wrote that "[his] voice was capable of executing the most difficult passages; its range covered two full octaves from low F to high f1". Grünewald regularly composed sacred cantatas until his death in 1739. As he had ordered that his compositions should be destroyed after his death, not a single piece from his pen has come down to us.

A comparison with Bach's cantatas also reveals differences in texture. Like Bach Graupner wrote recitatives, either accompanied or with basso continuo accompaniment alone, as well as dacapo arias. But whereas Bach often opens his cantatas with choruses of some length, usually dominated by counterpoint, Graupner's cantatas mostly begin with a chorale arrangement. In such a piece the chorale is homophonic and is sung by the four voices; the instruments provide the counterpoint. That procedure is repeated at the end of the cantata; sometimes another stanza from the same chorale is sung to the same music. We don't find here chorale harmonizations like in Bach's cantatas.

A special case is Erwacht, ihr Heiden, a cantata for Epiphany and first performed at 6 January 1734. The libretto was written by Graupner's brother-in-law, the theologian Johann Conrad Lichtenberg. The gospel of the day was Matthew 2, 1-12, which tells about the arrival of the wise men from the East. The text links up with this, and is introduced by an accompanied recitative of the tenor, whose part is comparable to that of the Evangelist in Passion oratorios, although the text is not taken from the Gospels: "Awake, ye gentiles, and gather round! Do you not see the Star of Jacob?" In this cantata the viola d'amore takes a special place. In the two arias it has an obbligato part, whereas the role of the strings - with the two violins playing in unison - is reduced to accompany the voice (bass and soprano respectively); they play pizzicato. The bass aria is a wonderful lyric piece in a quiet tempo: "Where are you, great comfort of the gentiles? Your gentle procession makes me yearn to follow you".

Graupner's last cantata, for the second Sunday after Epiphany, is entirely different: here the orchestra includes two horns, which not only participate in the chorales - two stanzas from Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten, in the middle and at the end - but also in the bass aria. However, the main instrument in this aria is the violin. In the soprano aria its role is taken by the transverse flute, which lends it a strongly intimate character. The cantata opens with a short chorus, which is a dictum (Psalm 84, vs 11).

Twice Graupner took Was Gott thut, das ist wohlgetan as the starting point of a cantata for the third Sunday after Epiphany. One of them (GWV 1114/30) dates from 1730. Again, the libretto is from the pen of Lichtenberg. The chorale suits the gospel of the day (Matthew 8, 1-13), about the healing of the leper and of the servant of a Roman centurion. The duet links up with that: "God alters my hour of woe, but only when and how He pleases". The aria for bass is notable for its instrumental scoring: flauto d'amore, oboe d'amore, two violins in unison, viola and bc. It fits the pastoral character of this aria and of the cantata as a whole. The second cantata (GWV 1114/43) dates from 1743; it has a relative 'conventional' scoring of four voices, oboe, two violins, viola and bc. Again, the tenor is about suffering and the cross the faithful may have to bear: "If God should send you a cross to bear, remember: it is his counsel". In this aria the oboe has a highly ornamented part.

Die Wasserwogen im Meer sind groß is a cantata for the fourth Sunday after Epiphany, and dates from 1735. The gospel of the day is Matthew 8, 23-27, about Jesus, sleeping in the boat, being awakened and calming the storm. The cantata opens with a chorus, in which the strings depict the waves of the sea. In the bass aria Graupner uses two obbligato instruments: the transverse flute and the chalumeau. This aria reflects the trust in God's protection, whereas the soprano aria is more dramatic, showing the transverse flute in a different role.

Like in his instrumental works Graupner is very much his own man in his sacred cantatas. In their texture and the instrumentation as well as in the way the texts are set to music these cantatas are hardly comparable to anything written by his contemporaries. From that angle there is every reason to be happy with the increasing interest in his oeuvre. In recent years several cantata recordings have been released, and there is more to come. CPO already released the first volume of a series devoted to cantatas for Passiontide, which will be reviewed here later. There is much to enjoy here, and Graupner's music is served rather well by the interpreters. I am not sure how many musicians Graupner had at his disposal. A line-up of four singers for the vocal parts, both the solos and the tutti, seems in accordance with common practice at the time. In the case of the instrumental forces I probably would have preferred a doubling of the violins. Especially in the more dramatic arias I find the playing a bit too restrained. The soloists do a fine job; in particular Dominik Wörner is excellent. Andrea Lauren Brown now and then uses a little too much vibrato, especially in faster passages. It did not spoil my enjoyment of this recording, which is a substantial addition to the Graupner discography. Hopefully many more discs with Graupner's music will appear in the years to come.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Andrea Lauren Brown
Georg Poplutz
Kai Wessel
Dominik Wörner

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