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Christoph GRAUPNER (1683 - 1760): "Christ lag in Todesbanden - Complete Cantatas for Two Sopranos & Bass"

Marie Luise Werneburg, Hanna Zumsande, soprano; Dominik Wörner, bass
Kirchheimer BachConsort
Dir: Florian Heyerick

rec: July 16 - 17, 2022, Kirchheim an der Weinstraße, Protestantische Kirche
CPO - 555 577-2 (© 2021) (69'07")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Christ lag in Todesbanden (GWV 1130/21); Du schönes Wohnhaus (GWV 1133/20); Ein jeglicher sei gesinnet (GWV 1126/21); Nun ist auferstanden (GWV 1128/21); Zerfließ', mein Herz, in Blut (GWV 1127/20)

Nadja Camichel, transverse flute; Amy Power, Katharina Verhaar, oboe; Arwen Bouw, Sabine Stoffer, violin; Nadine Henrichs, viola; Melanie Beck, cello; Shuko Sugama, violone; Peter Kranefoed, organ

In the first half of the 18th century, choruses and chorales in sacred cantatas were mostly scored for four voices. All or some of them were also given recitatives and arias to sing. Whereas the likes of Bach and Telemann treated the various voice types on pretty much equal footing, that is different in the case of Christoph Graupner. Alto and tenor play minor roles: in most cantatas their solo contributions are confined to recitatives and relatively short arias, and sometimes they sing a duet. The main arias are scored for soprano or bass. 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.

In the cantatas which are the subject of the disc under review, Graupner goes a step further in that he entirely omits any parts for alto and tenor, and also four-part chorales and hymns. The scoring of the five cantatas included here is for two sopranos and bass, who also take care of the choruses and chorales. Peter Wollny, in his liner-notes, points out that Graupner was strongly influenced by his teacher Johann Kuhnau. "[He] did not break with the ideals cultivated by Kuhnau. His later meeting with Mattheson and Handel in Hamburg did not change this. When Graupner wrote in his autobiography that at the end of his Leipzig years he "had nothing much more to fear in ecclesiastical or theatrical matters, but became hardened," he is implying that he had succeeded in synthesizing traditional and modern trends."

The cantatas on this disc attest to that. The scoring for two sopranos and bass was quite common in sacred concertos in 17th-century Germany. However, it is worthy to note that the two sopranos are not treated on equal footing. The main solos are for the first soprano, whereas the second only has some recitatives and arias to sing, and joins the first soprano and the bass in the tutti sections. This explains that in this recording the first soprano parts have been divided between the two sopranos.

It is remarkable that the cantatas in this unusual scoring date from two years, 1720 and 1721, and liturgically span the period from Maundy Thursday to Sunday Jubilate, the third Sunday after Easter. Wollny does not come up with an explanation. The reasons may be impossible to find, and could well have been very practical. The instrumental scoring is also modest; could it be that in these periods there was a lack of performers at the court?

Let's have a look at the five cantatas performed here. The libretti are all from the pen of the Darmstadt theologian Johann Conrad Lichtenberg.

Ein jeglicher sei gesinnet is a cantata for Maundy Thursday. The Gospel of that day was from John 13, which tells that Jesus, during the prepararion of the Last Supper, washed the feet of his disciples. This is translated into the message of this cantata, as is expressed in the dictum, which opens it: "[In your relationships with one another,] have the same mindset as Jesus Christ" (Philippians 2, vs 5). The soprano aria, which smells of opera, says: "My Jesus teaches me to be humble". The bass aria then connects the message to the Last Supper: "Sweet Jesus, oh, how refreshing is the sap of your meal". The cantata includes two chorales. 'Zu viel, ach gar zu viel' (Too much, far too much you do for me, Jesus) is from a hymn whose pietistic text is from the pen of Aemilie Juliane, countess of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt (Ach, wenn ich mich doch könnt' in Jesu Liebe senken), sung on the melody of O Gott, du frommer Gott. The second chorale closes the cantata: 'Entzünd' in mir die Andachtsbrunst' (Alight the fire of devotion in me) is from Ich komm jetzt als ein armer Gast, a hymn for the Lord's Supper by Justus Sieber (1628-1695), on the melody of Herr Jesu Christ, ich schrei zu dir. The chorales are set in typical Graupner manner: the voices sing the melody unaltered, the strings add the counterpoint.

Next is a cantata for Good Friday, Zerfließ', mein Herz, in Blut. At that day no episode from a Gospel was read, but rather verses from chapters 52 and 53 of the prophet Isaiah, and Psalm 22, whose opening words were quoted by Jesus at the cross. This explains that the libretto does not include any specific biblical reference. It is a lament on Jesus' death, but with a positive tenor, as "Jesus' suffering, anguish and death brings me welfare, salvation and life" (soprano aria). The form of the cantata is rather unusual. It opens with a chorus with solo passages; it has a dacapo texture, but the B part is a recitative. Next is a recitative for soprano I, which is followed by an aria, again for soprano I, embraced by ariosos with identical texts; the first is sung by soprano II, who is joined by the bass in the repeat after the aria. That is to say: this is according to the booklet and track-list; in the sequence of audio tracks, the second arioso is preceded by a recitative for bass. The autograph available at the Petrucci Music Library is hard to read, but as far as I could see, the recitative should come after the repeat of the arioso. The cantata closes with another chorus, which has a structure comparable with that of the opening section.

The next two cantatas are for Easter. Nun ist auferstanden is for the first day of Easter, when the Gospel was from Mark 16. The cantata opens with the first stanza of the Easter hymn of that title, written by Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705), which was sung on the melody of Jesu meine Freude. The last stanza closes the cantata. The string parts in both are dominated by triplets. The opening chorale is followed by a recitative for soprano I, in which coloratura is used to express the joy of the faithful: "Rejoice, my delighted heart". In the ensuing aria the soprano urges the soul to hold back his tears: "Jesus, your saviour, has now cast down the hellish foe". It is a virtuosic aria, in which the strings are joined by a pair of oboes. It includes episodes, in which the basso continuo is silent; its role is taken by the violins, playing the lowest part of the quartet, a technique known as bassetgen. Next is a dictum for the three voices, from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (ch 15, vs 57): "But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." The following recitative for bass warns against entering the service of Satan; the faithful must "emerge into new life from the grave of sin". The bass then sings an aria, in which he states that there is no need to worry of dying, "for I know the morning of my new life dawns even more beautifully". Again it includes passages where the basso continuo keeps silent.

The cantata for the third day of Easter also opens and closes with a chorale. Christ lag in Todesbanden connects Jesus' resurrection and his suffering and death, which is also the tenor of the cantata. The first stanza is cut into two halves; in between the bass sings a recitative, which warns against doubt: "Our faith shall teach us better, we are free through the death of Christ". The string parts are dominated by quartoles. The second section is an aria for bass with an obbligato violin part; it is a rather disturbing piece, probably to illustrate the "storms of doubt" which "rage and labour". In the centre is a dictum, taken from Paul's letter to the Romans (ch 8): "Who shall condemn us? Christ is here, he has died, and much more, he has also risen, and sits on the right hand of God, and is an advocate for us". It has the form of an accompanied recitative for three voices. Soprano I then sings an aria, with an obbligato part for transverse flute, which says that Jesus' suffering and death brings salvation and life, but warns that this only is true for those who repent of their sins. After a recitative the cantata closes with the sixth stanza of the chorale: "So feiern wir das hohe Fest".

The last cantata is Du schönes Wohnhaus, written for Sunday Jubilate, the third Sunday after Easter. The Gospel of the day is John 16, vs 16-23, where Jesus prepares his disciples for his death and his departure from the earth. This seems to have not been the source of inspiration of Lichtenberg; he may rather have taken the Epistle of day as such. This is from the first letter of Peter (ch 2), vs 11-17, which begins thus: "Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul." The tenor of the cantata is summed up in the bass aria: "Immaculate crown of virtue, ennoble me through your splendour". The cantata opens with a soprano aria, in which the two sections are in contrast, reflecting the text; in the second half the voice and the strings illustrate the words "dragon, wolf and snake's spawn". The bass aria is followed by a recitative: "A pure life of virtue conquers all the scorn of the world". The cantata closes with a chorus, which has the character of an aria for three voices; it is in dacapo form, but the B section is a solo for soprano. The opening illustrates the text - "we are floating here" - through lines in the two soprano parts, going up and down like the waves of the sea. Notable is here the range of the first soprano part which goes up to b".

In recent years quite a number of discs with cantatas by Graupner have been released. Each of them includes some surprises, which show that Graupner was very much his own man. They are written in the style of the high Baroque, but within that style Graupner follows his own route. Therefore the systematic exploration of his large oeuvre is of the greatest importance, and a highly worthwhile addition to the repertoire, especially in the field of sacred music.

Florian Heyerick is the main pioneer in the process of rediscovering Graupner's oeuvre, and is responsible for most of the recordings that have been released in recent years. In his performances he is usually assisted by Dominik Wörner, who founded the Kirchheimer BachConsort, in whose activities the oeuvre of Graupner takes a prominent place. Wörner is an outstanding singer, who is a master in communicating the content and Affekte of an aria or recitative. Heyerick has a good ear for singers who have the qualities to convincingly interpret Graupner's cantatas, and both Marie Luise Werneburg and Hanna Zumsande do an excellent job here, technically and in the realm of interpretation. The instrumental parts are perfectly executed.

This disc is another fine testimony of Graupner's creativity and brilliant skills in setting texts.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Relevant links:

Marie Luise Werneburg
Dominik Wörner
Hanna Zumsande

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