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Christoph GRAUPNER (1683 - 1760): "Easter Cantatas"

Jan Jerlitschka, alto; Sebastian Hübner, tenor; Johannes Hill, bass
Knabenchor 'Capella Vocalis'; Barockorchester Pulchra musica
Dir: Christian Bonath

rec: July 30 - August 2, 2019, Reutlingen, Christuskirche
Capriccio - C5411 (© 2021) (57'27")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

Der Sieg ist da (GWV 1128/43); Die Frucht des Gerechten (GWV 1126/33); Eröffnet euch ihr Augenquellen (GWV 1127/25); Ihr werdet traurig sein (GWV 1129/19)

Hans-Joachim Berg, Christine Rox, violin; Ursula Plagge-Zimmermann, viola; Johannes Berger, Gesine Petersmann, cello; Eberhard Becker, Christian Bonath, organ

The music of Christoph Graupner is pretty hot these days. In particular his sacred cantatas receive much attention lately, as various recordings of the last few years show. In many ways he is an exceptional figure, especially as his music is almost entirely free of the commonplaces - used in the neutral sense - which are a feature of the baroque idiom. That was largely due to the fact that he worked for most of his life at the court of Darmstadt, where he enjoyed almost unlimited freedom to do whatever he liked. Although his cantatas consist of choruses, chorales, recitatives and arias, as was common in his time, he manages to construct them in such a way that they are often different from those of his contemporaries. There is also quite some variety in the way the various forms follow each other. Some cantatas open with a chorus, others with an accompagnato, a duet or a chorale.

The present disc is entitled 'Easter Cantatas', but in fact only two of the four cantatas are for Easter. The programme opens with two cantatas for Passiontide. Die Frucht des Gerechten is written for Holy Thursday and begins with an accompagnato for tenor on a biblical text, a so-called dictum. It is taken from the Book of Proverbs (ch 11, vs 30): "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise". The core of this cantata is the love between Jesus and the faithful. The first recitative for bass refers to the love of Jesus for his people, whereas in the ensuing aria the bass proclaims that his heart will always love Jesus. These texts have the traces of Lutheran mysticism. That is also the case with the last aria, for alto, which calls Jesus "my tree of life", whose "comfort is so sweet". The cantata includes two chorales, two stanzas from O Jesu Christ, mein schönstes Licht (Paul Gerhardt, 1653).

Eröffnet euch, ihr Augenquellen is for Good Friday and opens with a chorus, which is unusually in five parts. Christian Bonath, in his liner-notes, mentions that the number five is symbolic for the five sacred wounds of Christ. The words "Open ye eyes" is followed by a general pause, an expression of deep emotion. In this piece Graupner makes use of various rhetorical figures to depict the text. In the first recitative for tenor, Jesus is called "my bridegroom", another term that is part of Lutheran mysticism. It is followed by a well-known hymn, O große Lieb, o Lieb ohn alle Maßen, the seventh stanza of Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen. Bach included the same stanza in his St John Passion. Notable is the lively rhythm here, whereas Bach uses a non-rhythmic version. Another stanza of this hymn ends the cantata. The bass aria (I wish to die with Jesus) is an expression of the longing for death that was a common feature of sacred music of the time, and which we meet often in Bach's cantatas. A notable aspect of this cantata is that all recitatives are accompanied, which allows for an expression of emotion through the sound of the strings and harmony.

The two next cantatas are intended for Easter. Der Sieg ist da is for Easter Sunday and opens with a chorus in which is proclaimed that "victory has come" and that "death has been swallowed up" and the "enemies have been beaten". It ends with a repeated "Hallelujah". In this chorus the strings imitate the sound of trumpets. A tenor aria expresses the joy about Jesus's resurrection, whereas the bass, in a dialogue with an obbligato violin, makes it something personal: "Jesus's victory and new life will give me comfort and joy, if my last hour comes".

Ihr werdet traurig sein is a cantata for Easter Monday. The opening is an accompagnato for tenor on a text from the Gospel after John (ch 16, vs 20), where Jesus is quoted saying: "You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy". The contrast between the two parts of this verse is eloquently expressed in the music. The starting point of the cantata is the story of the two men of Emmaus, who at first don't know that Jesus has resurrected, until he joins them and reveals himself to them. The opening dictum is followed by a duet of alto and tenor, in which the two men express their sadness. The ensuing bass recitative is a kind of moral consideration of the situation, which is followed by a chorus on the words of the two men, saying to Jesus: "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent". The bass aria is about the light which is the effect of Jesus's resurrection, and this is depicted by the violin which has an obbligato part, turning this aria into a kind of duet of bass and violin.

These cantatas are different from those I have heard in recent years in that they are scored for strings and basso continuo. That is probably not surprising in the Passion cantatas, but notable in the Easter cantatas. As I wrote, in Der Sieg ist da the violins imitate trumpets. Also worth mentioning is that these cantatas omit solos for soprano. At the court in Darmstadt, Graupner had some female sopranos at his disposal, who had made a career in the operas of Leipzig and Hamburg, and therefore many of his cantatas include virtuosic soprano arias. Not surprising is the important role of the bass; Graupner liked to explore the qualities of his deputy Kapellmeister Gottfried Grünewald, who had also started his career in opera. As his employer could do whatever he liked, the rule that women had to be silent in church could be ignored in Darmstadt. Therefore the use of a choir of boys and men - which is the ideal in almost any church music of the 17th and 18th centuries in Germany - is historically debatable. It seems even unlikely that a choir was used in Darmstadt. The choruses and chorales may have been sung by four soloists. That said, the choir Capella Vocalis is a fine ensemble, which does well in the tutti sections of these cantatas. One of its former members is Jan Jerlitschka, who has the chance to show his considerable skills here. He is still at the start of his career, but what he shows here is promising. Sebastian Hübner has a nice voice which is well suited to this repertoire, and has the flexibility and diction that is required. Johannes Hill does give a good account of the important bass parts. He sings with conviction and sensitivity. The slight tremolo in his voice is regrettable, but does not compromise my appreciation of his singing. There is just one issue: the tempi seem to me often a bit slow, and that certainly goes for the recitatives, which should have been more declamatory, and more rhythmically flexible.

Given the quality of the cantatas and the performances as well as the fact that all four cantatas appear on disc for the first time, this disc is an important contribution to the growing discography of Graupner's oeuvre.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Johannes Hill
Sebastian Hübner
Jan Jerlitschka
Capella Vocalis
Barockorchester Pulchra musica

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