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Christoph GRAUPNER (1683 - 1760): "Jesus ist und bleibt mein Leben - Solo- & Dialog-Kantaten" (Solo & dialogue cantatas)

Marie Luise Werneburg, sopranoa; Dominik Wörner, bassb
Kirchheimer BachConsort
Dir: Rudolf Lutz

rec: Jan 6 - 7, 2018, Kirchheim/Weinstraße, Evangelische Kirche
CPO - 555 215-2 (2 CDs) (© 2018) (92'21")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Diese Zeit ist ein Spiel der Eitelkeit (GWV 1165/09)a; Gott ist für uns gestorben (GWV 1152/16)b; Jesus ist und bleibt mein Leben (GWV 1107/12)ab; Siehe, selig ist der Mensch, den Gott strafet (GWV 1162/09)ab; Süßes Ende aller Schmerzen (GWV 1166/20)ab

Marc Hantaï, transverse flute; Patrick Beaugiraud, Irene del Rio Busto, oboe; Olivier Picon, Thomas Müller, corno di selva; Sergio Azzolini, bassoon; Chouchane Siranossian, Sabine Stoffer, violin; Éva Posvanecz, viola; Balász Máté, cello; Robert Sagasser, violone; Andreas Gräsle, organ; Rudolf Lutz, harpsichord

In recent years a considerable number of discs with music by Christoph Graupner have been released. They document the increasing interest in his oeuvre. Whereas for a long time he has remained in the shadow of his more famous contemporaries Bach and Telemann, performers now have recognized not only the quality of his oeuvre, but also the unique character of his idiom, which is almost entirely free of the topoi that were common in his time. The present set of discs once again proves that he is entirely his own man.

The performers focus on two genres within the corpus of his sacred music: the solo cantata and the dialogue. They are all written for soprano and/or bass, and that is no coincidence. Graupner's extant oeuvre includes 47 solo cantatas for soprano and the same number for bass. In addition, he left seventeen cantatas for soprano and bass. This reflects the forces Graupner had at his disposal at the court in Darmstadt. Whereas churches had to comply with the general rule that women were not allowed to sing in the liturgy, aristocrats were free to follow their own principles and preferences. Graupner's employer attracted several renowned opera singers. Two of them were appointed in 1709, at the same time as Graupner, two years later followed by a third. This was certainly inspired by his wish to perform operas. Like Graupner, the three singers were involved in the Oper am Gänsemarkt in Hamburg, and the composition of operas was also to be the main task of Graupner. However, for financial reasons, Landgrave Ernst Ludwig of Hesse-Darmstadt had to give up his plans for regular opera performances. As a result, Graupner had to confine himself to the composition and performance of sacred and secular cantatas as well as orchestral and chamber music. He made a virtue of necessity and explored the presence of female virtuosos at the court chapel to write technically demanding parts for soprano. For the bass parts, he could rely on Gottfried Grünewald, his deputy, who was an excellent singer. Graupner knew him from his time in Leipzig, where Grünewald was a singer in the St Thomas Choir and a pupil of Thomaskantor Schelle. He had also sung in the Hamburg opera, and therefore he was perfectly suited to perform in sacred cantatas, alongside the three ladies.

The five cantatas selected for this recording were written and performed between 1709 and 1720. Siehe, selig ist der Mensch, den Gott strafet is intended for the 21st Sunday after Trinity, and was performed on 20 October 1709. It is scored for soprano, bass, two oboes, strings and basso continuo, and requires an additional bassoon, playing colla parte. It opens with a sonata for strings and bc, which is followed by a dictum for bass and basso continuo in the form of an aria without dacapo. It is a setting of two verses from the Book of Job (ch 5). The core of the cantata is man's salvation through Jesus' death at the Cross. In the second aria the bass is accompanied by two oboes, two violins in unison and bassoon. The last aria is called aria con violini: the soprano is accompanied by strings and again the bassoon. In the A part the text refers to a "difficult burden", and the performers seem to emphasize this by crescendi on long notes.

Diese Zeit ist ein Spiel der Eitelkeit is for the 24th Sunday after Trinity, and is scored for soprano, strings, bassoon and basso continuo. The text is from the pen of Erdmann Neumeister, and is about vanity. This is expressed in the opening aria, which has an unmistakably secular character: "These times are a play of vanity". The word 'Eitelkeit' (vanity) is depicted by coloratura. The aria is technically demanding because of its wide range. It has no dacapo, in contrast to the second, in which sin is called the cause of vanity. This aria has a completely different character, largely due to the key of C minor and the tempo indication adagio. The cantata ends with a joyful aria, but in a different vein from the first. It expresses the joy of eternity rather than vanity: "I depart full of joy and laughing from yonder, I gain Heaven before earth".

Jesus ist und bleibt mein Leben was performed on 27 December 1712. This is not only the third day of Christmas, but also the Feast of the Evangelist and Apostle John. The Gospel of the day is from his gospel (John 21), where Jesus, after his resurrection, appears to his disciples. This cantata, on a text by the court poet Georg Christoph Lehms, is a dialogue between the Soul (Seele; soprano) and Jesus (bass). The character of a dialogue is emphasized by the instrumental scoring for three pairs of instruments: oboes, corni di selva and violins; there is no viola part. The cantata opens with an arioso of the Soul: "Jesus is and remains my life, to Him alone I am devoted". This is then confirmed three times, each time following a question by Jesus. In the soprano's only aria, the unity of the Soul and Jesus is expressed by oboe and violin playing in unison. The cantata ends with a duet of the Soul and Jesus: "O how do I want to embrace you, when God passes me/you the crown".

Gott ist für uns gestorben dates from 1716, and was performed at 23 August, the 11th Sunday after Trinity. The scoring is for bass, transverse flute, oboe, strings and basso continuo. Once again, the cantata is about man's salvation through Jesus's Passion and death, referring to the Epistle of that day, from 1 Corinthians 15. In the first aria, the believer acknowledges that it was he, who had beaten up Jesus. The next aria is particularly expressive: "Redeem my wrongdoing, cleanse me of my sins". The bass is accompanied by flute and oboe, without the strings. The cantata ends with the protagonist's expressing his joy in God's salvation in a lively aria. Heaven and earth are juxtaposed, and references to Heaven are illustrated by an omission of the basso continuo.

The latest cantata of this recording, which also closes the second disc, is Süßes Ende aller Schmerzen, written for the 25th Sunday after Trinity of 1720. The text is from the pen of Graupner's brother-in-law, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg. Here the two voices are supported by transverse flute, strings and basso continuo. The cantata is about death as a transition to eternal life. It is in line with a common thought of the time, which we also meet in many of Bach's cantatas (for instance Ich habe genug, BWV 82). It opens with an aria in an unusual form: first we get the A and B sections of the aria, then the soprano sings a secco recitative, and then the A section of the aria is repeated. In all three arias the transverse flute plays an obbligato part, and its character fits the intimate nature of this cantata rather well.

One can only welcome any new recording of Graupner's cantatas. They all have something special to offer, and the cantatas on this disc are no exception. Time and again one is struck by the way Graupner illustrates the text through rhetorical figures, key, tempo and instrumentation. He was also a very good composer for the voice, and was able to explore its features. The performances by Marie Luise Werneburg and Dominik Wörner are nearly ideal. My only reservation is probably that the latter sometimes tends to dwell a little too long on some figures, and some tempi are a bit too slow. However, these are only minor issues. This disc is another major addition to the growing Graupner discography. The Kirchheimer BachConsort, founded by Wörner and directed here by Rudolf Lutz, is a very fine ensemble, with such distinguished players as Marc Hantaï, Patrick Beaugiraud, Sergio Azzolini, Chouchane Siranossian and Balász Máté. I hope that more Graupner recordings will be released in the years to come.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Marie Luise Werneburg
Dominik Wörner

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