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

Solistenensemble Ex Tempore; Barockorchester Mannheimer Hofkapelle
Dir: Florian Heyerick

rec: Jan 5 - 7, 2020, Kirchheim an der Weinstraße, Andreaskirche
CPO - 555 348-2 (© 2020) (57'22")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Die Gewaltigen raten nach ihrem Mutwillen (GWV 1123/41)
Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein (GWV 1124/37) (Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh' darein, chorale); Ach, lass duich unsers Elends jammern (GWV 1119/37) (Alsdann so werd ich deinene Huld betrachten, chorale); Befiehl dem Herrn deine Wege (GWV 1123/36) (Befiehl du deine Wege, chorale); Christus ist des Gesetzes Ende (GWV 1123/16) (Ertöt uns durch dein Güte, chorale); Dennoch bleib ich stets an dir (GWV 1121/34) (Hoff, du arme Seele, chorale); Die Wahrheit findet keinen Glauben (GWV 1124/44) (Sie wüten fast und fahren her, chorale); Ich habe mir vorgesetzt (GWV 1124/38) (Gott ist gerecht und allzeit gut, chorale); Jesus stirbt ach soll ich leben (GWV 1125/13) (Jesus stirbt: ach! soll ich leben; Jesus stirbt! Ach! bittres Sterben, chorales); Kommt, lasst uns mit Jesu gehen (GWV 1119/22) (Hab ich dich in meinem Herzen, chorale); Wer unter dem Schirm des Höchsten (GWV 1120/51) (Trotz dem alten Drachen, chorale); Wo gehet Jesus hin (GWV 1119/39) (Dies Alles, obs für schlecht zwar ist zu schätzen, chorale)

Viola Blache, Jana Pieters*, soprano.; Anna Nuytten*, contralto; Franz Vitzthum, alto; Daniel Schreiber, Patrick Debrabandere*, tenor; Dominik Wörner, Arnout Malfliet*, bass
Georg Siebert, Shogo Fuji, oboe; Swantje Hoffmann, Alex Wiedner, violin; Silke Volke, viola; Johannes Berger, cello; Miriam Shalinsky, violone; Andreas Gräsle, organ

The present disc is the last of a series of four, covering a unique cycle of cantatas by Christoph Graupner, for most of his life Kapellmeister at the court in Darmstadt. There this cycle, comprising ten cantatas, was performed 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 (...)".

These cantatas were performed at different days: the first eight on Sundays, the last two on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday respectively. The texts of the Passion cantata cycle 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). As Graupner often visited Lichtenberg, it seems likely that they cooperated in the creation of the cantatas.

Apparently, the cantatas of this cycle were recorded and released at random order, and this explains why this last volume includes the fifth cantata. Das Leiden Jesu vor dem Geist und dem weltlichen Gericht (Jesus's suffering before the spiritual and worldly tribunal) was intended for Sunday Laetare, which literally means "rejoice"; it was also called Freudensonntag (Sunday of Joys). However, Ursula Kramer, in her liner-notes, points out that Lichtenberg ignores the character of this Sunday. On this day, "the centre of focus falls on God's actions, which alone can free humankind from its transgressions. But Lichtenberg (...) had chosen a different view, one far more negative and pessimistic: his text is predominantly a lamentation on the wickedness of the rulers and magistrates responsible for passing judgment on Jesus, who bears all of it with equanimity. At the end is a summary of mankind's collective guilt, from which there initially seems to be no escape". She then suggests that this "universal perspective" may have inspired Graupner to use the form of the duet for both arias. The cantata opens with a dictum, comprising verses from chapter 7 of the prophet Micah: "The powerful dictate what they desire - they all conspire together. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright worse than a thorn hedge." This is confirmed in the ensuing accompanied recitative for bass: "These words apply to Jesus's judges. They themselves press the charges. What hope is there for justice?" "Alas, Jesus, what must you endure" are the opening words of the first duet, for tenor and bass. It is followed by another accompanied recitative, this time for soprano: "Thus does my Jesus atone for false accusations". The next duet is for soprano and alto: "Consider, my heart: here the righteous man must stand before iniquitous judges for your salvation". The bass then returns with another accompanied recitative, and the cantata closes with the chorale 'Was ist die Ursach' aller solcher Plagen', the third stanza from Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen.

The chorale melody is treated with considerable freedom, and Graupner's setting includes strong dissonances. Also notable is the first duet. It has two obbligato parts, for violin and oboe d'amore respectively. The description of the scoring of this duet in the booklet raises questions. "[Two] additional violins in the ripieno are joined by three violins playing pizzicato (meaning that no fewer than six obligato musicians are required for the violin parts alone!)." This seems to be based on the description by the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt, where the score is preserved. The score itself mentions just two violins and one viola, and that is the line-up in this recording. It seems that the pizzicato passages are played by one violin, and that the ripieno episodes are separated from those in which the first violin has an obbligato part. That said, one wonders why not a larger ensemble has been used. In this respect, the performances in this project are not very consistent: in some of the previous recordings, the instrumental ensemble was larger than one instrument to a part. The score also mentions two oboes; these participate in the opening chorus, the duet of soprano and alto and the closing chorale.

When reviewing the third disc, I expressed the hope that the fourth would include the last of the ten cantatas of this cycle and some other cantatas for Passiontide. To a certain extent, the latter is indeed the case. However, instead of complete cantatas, we get chorale settings from twelve Passion cantatas. One may find that a little disappointing, but there is no reason for that. On the contrary, considering that these chorales are very different from the chorale harmonisations which conclude most of Bach's sacred cantatas. As Graupner follows entirely his own path in his sacred works, it can hardly surprise that this includes his treatment of the then common hymns. The differences between the chorale settings are quite astonishing.

Kommt, lasst uns mit Jesu gehen is a solo cantata for bass. Rather than adding three voices for the closing chorale, 'Hab ich dich in meinem Herzen', Graupner sets it as a chorale arrangement for bass and strings. It is a bit odd that here Dominik Wörner is joined by Arnout Malfliet as ripienist. This is a cantata for Sunday Estomihi (1722), and so is Wo gehet Jesus hin (1739). Here the chorale is treated as a motet for four voices, with the cantus firmus in the tenor; the strings play colla voce. 'Trotz dem alten Drache' is the third stanza of Jesu, meine Freude, which concludes the cantata for Sunday Invocavit, Wer unter dem Schirm des Höchsten (1751). It is set for four voices, which sing in homophony and focus on the expression of the text. It includes two meaningful pauses: first after "Ruh" ([in most sure] repose) and then after "verstummen" ([shall] grow silent). Very unusual is Graupner's procedure in 'Befiehl du deine Wege', which closes Befiehl dem Herrn deine Wege, a cantata for Sunday Laetare of 1716. Here every line of the hymn is first sung by the bass on free melodic material, and then followed by the four tutti voices singing the same line on the traditional chorale melody. Something comparable is the case in 'Gott ist gerecht und allzeit gut' (Ich habe mir vorgesetzt), the third stanza of the little-known hymn Herr schaff uns wie die kleine Kind: here the tutti sing every line first on free material and then repeat it on the melody of the hymn. The disc ends with two chorales from the same cantata, Jesus stirbt, ach soll ich leben, intended for Palm Sunday 1713, on a text by Georg Christian Lehms. The first is scored for five voices (SSATB), whereas the second is in fact a virtuosic duet of two sopranos, with the bass singing the cantus firmus. It is quite an astonishing piece, and a worthy conclusion of this disc, proving once again that Graupner is a unique voice in the chorus of the German Baroque.

As far as the performances are concerned, the high level of the previous recordings in this series is continued here. The main parts are sung by Viola Blache and Dominik Wörner. The latter is a household name in the early music scene, and one of the best interpreters of German sacred music. Viola Blache is a new name to me, and I am quite impressed by her contributions. She and Jana Pieters, who is every inch her equal, are responsible for one of the highlights of this disc, the chorale I just mentioned.

With this disc the project is completed. It gives us a whole new work, a kind of Passion oratorio, which, given its character as a cantata cycle, is probably more comparable with Bach's Christmas Oratorio then with the Passion oratorios of the time. However, as the scores are available for free, we may hope that these cantatas will become part of the standard repertoire for Passiontide.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Ex Tempore
Mannheimer Hofkapelle

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