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

Solistenensemble Ex Tempore; Barockorchester Mannheimer Hofkapelle
Dir: Florian Heyerick

rec: Feb 27, 2016 (live), Darmstadt, Pauluskirchea; Feb 17, 2018 (live), Ghent, St Machariuskerkb
CPO - 555 230-2 (© 2019) (69'27")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Jesus, auf dass er heiligte das Volk (GWV 1126/41); Kommt, Seelen, seid in Andacht stille (GWV 1119/41); Sie rüsten sich wider die Seele (GWV 1124/41)

Doerthe-Maria Sandmann*a, Simone Schwarka, Griet De Geyter*b, Jana Pietersb, Goedele Heidbüchelb, soprano; Anne Bierwirtha, Elisabeth Colsonb, contralto; Marnix De Cat*a, Jonathan De Ceuster*b, alto; Jan Kobow*a, Yves Vanhandenhovena, Philippe Gagné*b, Leander Van Gijsegemb, tenor; Robbert Muuse*a, Dominik Wörner*b, Kai-Rouven Seeger, bass
Jan Van den Borre, transverse flute; Benoit Laurent, Julia Fankhauser, Stefaan Verdegem, oboe; Liza Goldberg, bassoon; Swantje Hoffmann, violin; Alexandra Wiednera, Silke Volka, Manu Huyssena, Emanuele Bredaa, Annelies De Cockb, Nadine Henrichsb, violin, viola; Johannes Bergera, Tine Van Parijsb, cello; Kit Scotneya, Sanne Deprettereb, violone; Geneviève Solya, Dimos De Beunb, organ
* solo

This is the third disc in a series comprising the complete cycle of ten cantatas by Christoph Graupner which was performed at the court in Darmstadt during Lent in 1741. The very fact that Graupner wrote this cycle is remarkable. In the booklet, Beate Sorg points out that in some parts of Germany this period was known as tempus clausum, as 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 (...)".

Born in Kirchberg in Saxony, Graupner received his first music lessons from local musicians, and then went to Leipzig in 1696 as an alumnus of the Thomasschule. The time in Leipzig turned out to be crucial for his development as a musician and composer. Here he became acquainted with Telemann, who was the leader of the local Collegium Musicum. Together with his friend Johann David Heinichen, he studied with the then Thomaskantor Johann Kuhnau, who thoroughly instructed them in counterpoint. For some time Graupner worked in Hamburg, where he was closely involved in the activities of the opera. It was with the specific aim of composing operas that Landgrave Ernst Ludwig of Hesse-Darmstadt engaged him. However, an opera at his court was beyond the Landgrave's financial capabilities, and he had to give up that idea. As a result, Graupner composed the sacred music for Sundays and feastdays as well as the instrumental music for the entertainment of his employer.

The texts of the Passion cantata cycle, recorded by Florian Heyerick for CPO, are from the pen of the poet and theologian Johann Conrad Lichtenberg, who was pastor in Darmstadt from 1745 until his death in 1751. 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.

This third volume includes the cantatas 1, 6 and 9 from the cycle. It opens with Kommt, Seelen, seid in Andacht stille (Come, ye souls, be silent in worship), which is for Sunday Estomihi, the last Sunday before Lent. One can consider it as a kind of prologue, as it announces what is to come. The Gospel of that Sunday was from Luke 18, which tells that Jesus and his disciples go to Jerusalem. The scoring is for four voices, two oboes, strings and bass continuo. The opening chorus begins with a motif of two notes in the basso continuo, which reminds of the ticking of a clock; it is repeated a number of times throughout this section of the cantata. It is probably a reference to the first word of the text, "Come". Graupner omits almost any secco recitatives, and prefers accompagnati, which allows him to use the instruments for the depiction of elements in the text. Here the opening chorus is followed by a bass accompagnato, and then the soprano sings an aria, which includes strong contrasts between the first and second lines: "Shall my Saviour die suffering? No! Alas yes! It has to be!". The bass aria is scored for two obbligato violas, which lends it a dark and subdued character, in line with its content: "Jesus goes to the Cross to die. (...) Help me, Lord Jesus, when I suffer". It is notable that Graupner in the tutti requires violettas. instead of violins. The problem is that we don't know for sure what instruments are meant. Therefore such parts are mostly played on violas, as is also the case here. The cantata ends with an extended chorale setting, quite different from the relatively simple harmonisations which close Bach's cantatas.

Next in the programme is the sixth cantata of this cycle, Sie rüsten sich wider die Seele, which is for Sunday Judaica, the fifth Sunday of Lent. The scoring is for four voices, transverse flute, two oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo. The opening choir is a dictum, a litteral quotation from the Bible, in this case three verses from Psalm 94: "They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous". This idea is probably illustrated by the repeated figures in the oboes, later adopted by the voices. The accompanied recitatives are paraphrases of the Passion narrative as we find them in the Gospels. In the second, the bass sings: "O miracle! Jesus falls silent. He patiently suffers the judges' ire, and that ire is great". The preceding soprano aria includes staccato figures in the strings, illustrating the text "Jesus's staff is shattered." The scoring includes an obbligato bassoon part. It returns in the bass aria, together with two oboes and strings. After a short alto recitative - the only secco recitative on this disc - the cantata closes with another chorale.

The disc ends with Cantata No. 9, Jesus, und dass er heiligte das Volk, which is for Maundy Thursday, and is scored for four voices, transverse flute, three oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo. It opens with another dictum, two verses from Hebrews 13. It is followed by an accompagnato for soprano, which opens with the words: "Come, Sulamith, take you walking staff, remove your jewellery and fine clothes and set out, shedding tears at every step, on your journey of fear and sorrow. Whence? To Golgatha!" Sulamith is one of the characters in the Song of Solomon. This book is about the love between a young man and a young woman. Since early times the young man was identified with Jesus, and the young woman with the faithful. This explains why Jesus in this accompagnato is called "Your friend". The first aria is for soprano with three oboes and bassoon, plus strings. The text - "O bitter path! My Jesus, are your burdens too heavy on your deathward journey?" - explains that here the tempo indication is largo. The bass then describes graphically how Jesus is crucified: "The Lamb is lifted to the Cross, his blood streams forth". In the ensuing aria this is interpreted metaphorically: "Jesus spreads his arms, ah!, to embrace the sinners in love while still on the Cross". Again this aria includes parts for violettas. After a short accompagnato for tenor, the cantata ends with the chorale O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig.

I have enthusiastically welcomed the previous volumes in this series (Vol. 1; Vol. 2), as I was struck by the music and the level of the performances. There is every reason to welcome this third volume with the same enthusiasm. The more of Graupner's music I hear, the more I am impressed by its unique features. It is so different from anything written by composers of his time. Graupner's music is very expressive, through the effective use of rhetorical means and his differentiated instrumentation in the interest of expression. This disc includes several fine examples of that. Florian Heyerick is a man with a mission: to convince the musical world that Graupner's music deserves to be part of the standard repertoire. He succeeds in doing so with his performances and recordings. This disc includes the recordings of two live performances. The singing and playing is outstanding. For every disc in this series, Heyerick has selected the right singers, who deliver fully idiomatic performances. Soprano and bass sing the main parts: Doerthe-Maria Sandmann and Robbert Muuse in Cantata 1; Griet De Geyter and Dominik Wörner in Cantatas 6 and 9. We still have one cantata to go; it is to be hoped that this will appear on disc next year, probably together with other music for Passiontide. If the series is complete, we have a whole new kind of Passion oratorio, which is in no way inferior to the oratorios we know, such as the various settings of the Brockes Passion. I can hardly wait to see the completion of this project.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Ex Tempore
Mannheimer Hofkapelle

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