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Christoph GRAUPNER (1683 - 1760): "Frohlocke gantzes Rund der Erden - Bass Cantatas"

Klaus Mertens, bass-baritone
Accademia Daniel
Dir: Shalev Ad-El

rec: Nov 1 - 12, 2010, Chemnitz-Hilbersdorf, Trinitatiskirche (Gemeindesaal)
CPO - 777 644-2 (© 2014) (71'23")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Ach Herr mich armen Sünder (GWV 1152/46); Angenehmes Waßer Bad (GWV 1104/11b); Frohlocke gantzes Rund der Erden (GWV 1139/20); Ich bin zwar Asch und Koth (GWV 1135/13); Kommt, last uns mit Jesu gehen (GWV 1119/22); Zähle meine Flucht (GWV 1154/12b)

Ofer Frenkel, oboe; Walter Reiter, Dafna Ravid, violin; Katya Polin, violin, viola; Amos Boasson, viola; Thomas Fritzsch, viola da gamba, cello; Benny Aghassi, bassoon; Claus-Peter Nebelung, double bass; Ophira Zakai, theorbo; Shalev Ad-El, harpsichord, organ

It is often thought that Johann Sebastian Bach composed a large number of cantatas. However, even if we consider that a part of his oeuvre in this genre has been lost, he is easily surpassed by his colleague Christoph Graupner who wrote 1,400 cantatas. He did so in his capacity as Kapellmeister at the court of Darmstadt where he was in the service of Landgrave Ernst Ludwig from 1711. It was his duty to compose sacred music, instrumental works and operas. In the latter genre he had acquired experience in Hamburg where he had worked since 1707 as a harpsichordist at the Oper am Gänsemarkt. Unfortunately his own operas have been lost. In 1719 the court opera closed for financial reasons and since that year Graupner concentrated on the composition of sacred music.

He composed a number of solo cantatas, among them 47 for bass. This can be explained by the presence of Gottfried Grünewald who was vice-Kapellmeister, and also a bass singer. He had started his career as a singer at the Hamburg opera and there Graupner met him. In Darmstadt he also acted as a composer: he and Graupner shared the duty of composing cantatas.

The librettos come from two sources: Georg Christian Lehms (1684-1717) whose texts were also used by Bach, and Johann Conrad Lichtenberg (1689-1751), Graupner's father-in-law who first was a pastor in Ober-Ramstadt and later became church superintendent in Darmstadt. He was the author of 23 cantata cycles, comprising around 1,600 texts. Between 1719 and 1754 Graupner set about two thirds of them. In the latter year his activities as a composer came to an end because of blindness.

The cantatas have the then common texture: a sequence of recitatives and arias. Some open with a dictum, a quotation from the Bible. Chorales also play an important role in Graupner's cantatas. In Bach's cantatas the chorales in solo cantatas are for four voices, which means that additional singers are needed. In these cantatas by Graupner the bass sings the melody whereas the strings play an independent ornamental accompaniment. In Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder such chorale settings open and close the cantata and the harmonic progressions eloquently illustrate their respective content. The last cantata on this disc, Zähle meine Flucht, is a little different in that it omits any recitatives. The first aria is followed by an accompagnato and an arioso, and the closing aria is very short and is a setting of verses from Psalm 4. In Frohlocke gantzes Rund der Erden the first aria is repeated after a short recitative.

The basic instrumental scoring is for two violins, viola and basso continuo. In Frohlocke gantzes Rund der Erden this scoring is extended with two violettas and two bassoons. It is not quite clear what the term violetta refers to as it was used for different instruments at the time. In Angenehmes Waßer Bad the strings are joined by an oboe. In Zähle meine Flucht the arioso includes an obbligato part for violin.

The cantatas are all connected to a Sunday or feast in the ecclesiastical year. Frohlocke gantzes Rund der Erden is for Whit Monday and focuses on the working of the Holy Ghost. Ich bin zwar Asch und Koth is for Sunday Rogate; the gospel reading of the day is from John 16, where Jesus talks about the power of praying. The second recitative explains the meaning of the Lord's Prayer. The gospel reading for the 11th Sunday after Trinity is from Luke 18, including the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, and that comes to the fore in Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder. The content is comparable with Bach's cantata BWV 199, Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, written for the same Sunday. Kommt, last uns mit Jesu gehen links up with the gospel reading of the day which tells about the disciples accompanying Jesus on his final journey to Jerusalem (Luke 18): "Come, let's go with Jesus, though he may go on suffering's path". The cantata is for Sunday Estomihi, the last Sunday before Lent. Angenehmes Waßer Bad is for the fourth Sunday of Advent: "Pleasant water bath, you show me the way to heaven". This refers to the work of John the Baptist which is the subject of the gospel reading of the day (from John 1). Zähle meine Flucht is for the 13th Sunday after Trinity, but the text seems not connected to the readings of the day. It is about the distress of the believer as is expressed in the first aria: "To you, my God, my distress is known".

Klaus Mertens is probably the best interpreter of this kind of repertoire. His diction and articulation are excellent, and as a result any German speaker will be able to understand every single syllable without looking at the lyrics in the booklet. He doesn't overdo the expressive elements in these texts. Everything sounds completely natural, including his ornamentation and his emphasizing of single words. It is just a joy to hear him and I can't imagine a stronger case for these cantatas than Mertens' interpretations. The Accademia Daniel delivers appropriate performances of the instrumental parts but the strings would have benefited from a little more intensity. At several moments I found them a bit too bland.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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