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Christoph GRAUPNER (1683 - 1760): "Das Leiden Jesu - Passion Cantatas II"

Solistenensemble Ex Tempore; Barockorchester Mannheimer Hofkapelle
Dir: Florian Heyerick

rec: March 16, 2017 (live), Ghent, Conservatoire (Miry Concertzaal)
CPO - 555 170-2 (© 2018) (79'19")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Freund, warum bist du kommen? (Das Leiden Jesu von seinen Freunden) (GWV 1122/41); Gedenke, Herr, an die Schmach Deiner Knechte (Die Schmähliche Verspottung) (GWV 1170/41)a; Nun ist es alles wohlgemacht (Die Gesegnete Vollendung der Leiden Jesu) (GWV 1127/41)

[ET] Annelies Van Gramberen*, Jana Pietersa*, Goedele Heidbuchel, soprano; Marnix De Cat*, Jonathan De Ceuster, alto; Lothar Blum*, Leander Van Gijzegem, tenor; Dominik Wörner*, Kai-Rouven Seeger, bass (*) soli
[MH] Sien Huybrechts, Nora Marta, transverse flute; Marcel Ponseele, Maria Petrescu, oboe; Lisa Goldberg, bassoon; Anne Harer, Ann Cnop, violin; Benoit Douchy, viola; Christoph Harer, cello; Eric Mathot, violone; Guy Penson, organ

The present disc is the second in a series, which comprises ten cantatas which were performed during Lent in 1741. That is itself is remarkable, as in many parts of Germany this period was known as tempus clausum, during which no music was performed, reflecting the character of this time of the year as one of repentance. This was a relic of the old Roman Catholic canon law. "The Lutheran rules, on the other hand, stated that a Passion Devotion should be held on every Sunday in Lent between Estomihi (which is before Ash Wednesday) and Palm Sunday. Duke Ernest the Pious had introduced a rule in Gotha in 1669 which specified that a cantata should be performed on each of these occasions. It is likely that Graupner's predecessor Wolfgang Carl Briegel brought this innovation with him, when in 1670 he moved from Gotha to Darmstadt to take up his position as court Kapellmeister there (...)", Beate Sorg writes in the booklet.

This cantata cycle is from the pen of the poet and theologian Johann Conrad Lichtenberg, who was pastor in Darmstadt from 1745 until his death. He was also related to Graupner: in 1717 he married the younger sister of Graupner's wife. Graupner had a strong preference for Lichtenberg's librettos: about 1,400 cantatas by Graupner have come down to us, and no fewer than 1,190 are on texts by Lichtenberg. The latter wrote three cantata cycles for Passiontide for the court in Darmstadt. The first is from 1718, and is based on the seven penitential psalms, which traditionally were sung during Lent. The last dates from 1743 and is about Jesus' Last Words from the Cross. The cycle of 1741 is called Betrachtungen über die Hauptumstände des großen Versöhnungsleidens unseres Erlösers (Reflections on the Circumstances Surrounding the Propitiatory Passion of Our Saviour). Marc-Roderich Pfau, in his contribution to the liner-notes, points out that Graupner often visited Lichtenberg, and suggests that they probably cooperated in the creation of the cantatas.

The series of recordings does not follow the order of the cycle. Vol. 1 included the cantatas 2, 3 and 8, the present volume comprises the cantatas 4, 7 and 10, but it is rather odd that they are not performed in that order: the cantata No. 10, written for Good Friday, is placed in the centre rather than at the end. Although the cantata cycle follows the story of the Passion of Christ as it is told in the Gospels, their narrative is ignored by Lichtenberg. The word 'reflections' in the title already suggest, that his libretto is closer to the genre of the Passion Oratorio, such as Brockes's Der für die Sünde der Welt gemarterde und sterbende Jesus, than to Bach's oratorio Passions.

Freund, warum bist du kommen is written for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, known as Sunday Oculi, and is scored for four voices, strings and basso continuo. It opens with a dictum, a quotation from the Bible; here the words are from Matthew 26 (vs 50) and Luke 22 (vs 48), sung by the bass (Friend, why are you here? Judas! Do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?) and the tenor (Then all the disciples left Him and fled), in the form of an accompagnato. It is followed by another accompagnato, this time for the soprano. This shows the character of the cantatas of this cycle and their similarity to the Brockes Passion: "Ah, my Jesus, how sorrowful you must be in your soul. (...) Ah, my Jesus, must you endure this from your friends?" Her ensuing aria has a clearly moral character: "Every woe and every plague becomes light with the comfort of friends". This explains why this aria has a rather uplifting character, even though it is restrained in its expression, which is a common feature of this cycle. After a recitative and an accompagnato for bass, he sings an aria which links up with the subject of friendship: "The Lord remains loyal when his friends falter". There is something odd in this aria. The original text has in its first line Feinde (enemies), whereas the modern transcription in a document on this cantata, put together by Darmstadt library, has Freunde (friends), which makes much more sense, considering this cantatas content. However, in this recording Dominik Wörner first sings Feinde, and then, when the phrase is repeated, Freunde. Both the 'correction' and the performance are not discussed in the booklet. An accompagnato for alto is followed by the closing chorale, the fifth stanza from the hymn Wenn meine Sünd' mich kränken (Justus Gesenius, 1646). It is not a simple harmonization, but a more complex contrapuntal construction full of dissonances, reflecting the text: "Lord, let Thy woes, Thy patience, my heart with strength inspire to vanquish all temptations and spurn all base desire."

Gedenke, Herr, an die Schmach is intended for the Feast of the Annunciation on 25 March 1741, the Saturday before Palm Sunday. It is scored for four voices, two transverse flutes, two oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo. It opens with a chorus on verses 50 and 51 from Psalm 89. Whereas in the previous cantata there is some connection between the libretto and the Epistle of the day, the readings of this particular day are obviously about the annunciation of Jesus' birth, and are ignored in the libretto. After the opening chorus the soprano has an accompagnato, which is followed by a duet for soprano and alto: "Jesus suffers the impudent mockery of reckless throngs, his humiliation is an outrage!" It is followed by an accompagnato and an aria for bass. The latter is especially interesting for Graupner's use of the different instruments. The contrast in the text between the mockery of "high priests, citizens, slaves, soldiers and courtiers" and Jesus, who "endures the tormens in silence", is translated in the music through the opposition between the flutes, playing syncopations, on the one hand and the violins, playing sustained notes in their lowest register, on the other. An accompagnato for the tenor leads to the closing chorale, again dominated by counterpoint.

Nun ist alles wohl gemacht is the tenth and last cantata of this cycle, and intended for Good Friday. It is also the longest, in particular due to the length of the two arias, for soprano and bass respectively. The scoring is for four voices, two flutes, two oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo. The first section is called 'chorale', but is in fact a polyphonic chorus; the text is the first stanza of a hymn by Laurentius Laurentii (1700). The dictum in this cantata is in the middle, and is taken from the letter to the Hebrews (ch 5, vs 9): "And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all of them that obey him." The cantata closes with a chorale which is once again much more than a harmonization, and is comparable to the choruses which open Bach's cantatas. The text is the 23rd stanza of the hymn O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde gross; unfortunately the second half of the text has been omitted in the booklet. It can be found on the Bach Cantata website, with an English translation. As one may expect, this cantata focuses on Jesus' death. The opening chorale is followed by an accompagnato and aria for soprano: "The Saviour dies! O sinner, are you not weeping? (...) Bewail Jesus's sufferings! Die, my heart, with His heart!" In this aria the singer is accompanied by two flutes and bassoon, and Graupner here added an obbligato part for the violin. Again, he uses the different instruments to emphasize contrasts in the text, for instance in the bass cantata: "All is done! Death and affliction have been turned aside."

I already mentioned that these cantatas are rather restrained. There are neither outbreaks of emotions nor dramatic contrasts, which is the logical result of this cycle's concentratino on reflection rather than a description of the events of Good Friday. Like his friend and colleague Telemann, Graupner was very keen to explore the particular features of the various instruments. In one of the cantatas included in the first volume, he uses a chalumeau. In the cantatas on the present disc the instrumental scoring is more 'conventional', but no less effective in the illustration of the content of the arias. The fact that nearly all the recitatives are accompanied, also allows for a close connection between text and music. The choruses are real jewels, and show Graupner's command of counterpoint. This is a fine sequel to the previous volume, and I am looking forward to the next instalment.

The performances are generally pretty good. The choir and the instrumental ensemble are excellent. The tutti are performed by the four soloists with four ripienists. Among the soloists the soprano and the bass have all the arias, as is common in Graupner's cantatas. Dominik Wörner is a specialist in this kind of repertoire and has regularly impressed me with his interpretation of sacred music by the likes of Bach and Graupner. He really goes to the bottom of things in his arias. I am a little sceptical about Annelies Van Gramberen. She sings well and I like her voice, but now and then she uses a little too much vibrato.

All in all, this is another fine addition to the discography of music for Passiontide as well as a further step in the process of discovering Graupner's sacred music.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Ex Tempore
Mannheimer Hofkapelle

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