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Christoph GRAUPNER (1683 - 1760): "Wo gehet Jesus hin - Passionskantaten" (Passion cantatas)

Anton-Webern-Chor Freiburg, Ensemble Concerto Grosso
Dir: Hans Michael Beuerle

rec: March 9 - 12, 2011, Müllheim (Baden), Martinskirche
Carus - 83.457 (© 2012) (70'46")
Liner-notes: D/E (abridged); lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list
Scores & Parts

Freund, warum bist du kommen (GWV 1122/41)aefg; Mein Gott! Mein Gott! Warum hast Du mich verlassen? (GWV 1127/31)dfg; Wir wissen, daß Trübsal Geduld bringet (GWV 1121/44)bfg; Wo gehet Jesus hin? (GWV 1119/39)cg

[AWC] Gunhild Lang-Alsvika, Sonja Bühlerb, Felicitas Fuchsc, soprano; Julien Freimuthd, Till Schumann, alto; Barbara Ostertag, contraltoe; Jens Eggert, Michael Feyfarf, Jörg M. Krause, tenor; Markus Flaigg, Christian Janz, Matthias Schillmöller, bass
[CG] Swantje Hoffmann, Alexandra Wiedner, violin; Lucile Chionchini, viola; Juris Teichmanis, cello; Matthias Scholz, violone; Sebastian Küchler-Blessing, harpsichord; Martin Müller, organ

"We cannot yet (...) speak of a Graupner Renaissance, and it is high time we raised this immense treasure and moved this important composer out of the shadow of his great contemporaries". Thus ends Hans Michael Beuerle his liner-notes in the booklet of this recording of four cantatas for Passiontide. As much as I agree with the last remark I beg to disagree about the first. Considering the number of recordings with music by Graupner which have crossed my path over the last couple of years I think there is every reason to speak about a Graupner renaissance. And that is a happy development: the more of his compositions are performed, the more one is impressed by the quality and versatility of his oeuvre. As he has been largely neglected for a long time most discs with his music include one or more first recordings. This disc is no exception: all four cantatas have been recorded for the first time.

In his capacity as Kapellmeister of the court in Darmstadt from 1711 until his death Graupner composed a large amount of music, among which around 1400 sacred cantatas. It is a matter of good luck that his oeuvre has been preserved almost complete; the main part which is lost regards the operas he composed during his time in Hamburg, before he was appointed in Darmstadt. The circumstances at the court are reflected by the cantatas. In these the far majority of the arias is scored for either soprano or bass. Graupner could rely on several good sopranos and his deputy Gottfried Grünewald was a particularly good bass (he died in 1739). In many cantatas Graupner makes use of texts by his brother-in-law, the theologian Johann Conrad Lichtenberg. The cantatas on this disc are all from his pen.

Wir wissen, daß Trübsal Geduld bringet is a cantata for Sunday Reminiscere, the second Sunday of Lent. It begins with a dictum, a quotation from the Bible, in this case Romans 5, vs 3-5: "We know that affliction brings patience, and patience brings experience. Experience brings hopem and hope does not bring disgrace". The Trübsal (affliction) is the central issue of this cantata. The dictum is followed by a recitative for tenor which says that a "child in darkness (...) cries out and hopes for God's grace". Next tenor and bass sing a duet, which is a prayer for comfort: "Ah Jesus, have pity on me". The two voices move in parallels or imitate each other, and this aria is full of Seufzer. After a stanza from the hymn Ach Gott, erhör' mein Seufzen (Jakob Peter Schechs, 1648) the soprano sings a recitative which says that the hope of the faithful isn't built on sand; the salvation will come, despite strong resistance. It is followed by an aria in which the hope for salvation is confirmed and God is asked why he keeps silent. There are extended coloraturas on "wankt" (waver). The cantata closes with another stanza from the above-mentioned hymn.

Wo gehet Jesus hin? is written for Sunday Estomihi. The gospel reading for that Sunday was Luke 18, vs 31-43 which tells that Jesus goes to Jerusalem to suffer and die, and heals a blind man on the way. This is reflected by the text of the cantata which begins with an accompagnato for bass: "Where is Jesus going? He says: I am going to suffer". It is followed by an aria for the tutti: "Ah, hard road that Jesus treads". It is a kind of lamento with strong harmonic tension. It includes a dialogue between the bass and the tutti. The third section is the opening stanza of the hymn Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen (Johann Heermann, 1630). It is full of dissonances, and it is notable that the cantus firmus is in the bass, which is quite unusual in German church cantatas. Then follows a reference to the healing of the blind man which is used metaphorically in the recitative and aria for soprano: "Sadly, the flesh is blind to the Lord's suffering words, unable to comprehend his wonder". The aria says: "Jesus, open my eyes so that I can understand to my comfort the way of your suffering". In the solo part the soprano moves to a higher octave, depicting the opening of the eyes. The cantata ends with another stanza from the hymn, again with the cantus firmus in the bass.

Freund, warum bist du kommen? is a cantata for Sunday Oculi which begins with a dictum, put together from various gospels, for bass and tenor: "'Friend, why have you come? Judas! Do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?' Then all the disciples forsook him and fled". The gospel reading was Luke 11, vs 14-28, but that seems not to have any connection with the content of this cantata which rather concentrates on Jesus' suffering through the betrayal of his friends. As the recitativo accompagnato for the soprano says: "There your Father remains in Heaven, and here your friends press against you". In the B-part of the following aria he sings: "His friend kicks him, to whom he gave the bread". The words "kicks him" (tritt ihn mit Füßen) is depicted with a lively rhythmic figure. In the A-part the violins move quietly on the words "solcher Trost" (such comfort). A bass recitative points out that Judas and Peter are not unique: "perhaps they are like many others (...) they join Peter in his fall, but not in his penance". The next aria then affirms that the Lord draws his friends to return and they will find forgiveness. In another accompanied recitative the faithful are urged to be alert, and this could be a reference to the other reading of this Sunday, Eph 5, vs 1-9, a warning to follow God (Bach composed his cantata 54 for this Sunday, Widerstehe doch der Sünde). The cantata closes with a chorale, 'Herr, lass dein bitter Leiden', the fifth stanza from Wenn meine Sünd' mich kränken (Justus Gesenius, 1646). Beuerle points out how the text is reflected in the music: "The end: undecided between F major and f minor: 'Lord, make your bitter suffering cause me forever and ever (... avoid sinful desires)".

The last cantata on this disc is for Good Friday: Mein Gott! Mein Gott! Warum hast du mich verlassen. It begins with a quotation from Psalm 22, vs 1: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me", which is one of the words of Jesus at the cross. In a recitative and an aria the bass reflects on the fact that the Father has forsaken his Son. A chorale expresses the fact that Jesus' suffering is due to mankind: "What you, Lord, have suffered, is all my burden, I have deserved it". The tenor recitative expresses the believer's love for Jesus because of his suffering on his behalf. The following duet of alto and tenor refers to the result: "all sins he takes with him to the grave". It is notable that the word "grave" first is set to a seventh, and then to a "completely empty sound, a double octave: the grave is empty" (Beuerle). This can be interpreted as a reference to Easter. The faithful are then urged to "leave the world, or God must leave you". The cantata ends with the 10th stanza from the hymn O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (Paul Gerhardt, 1656).

As far as I know this is the first time I have heard these two ensembles. They give generally good performances of these four beautiful and expressive cantatas. The tutti are sung by a vocal ensemble of three singers per voice. It seems a bit inconsistent with the scoring of the instrumental ensemble with only one instrument per part. The court of Darmstadt didn't have a choir, and although it is possible that additional singers were attracted for special occasions, it seems likely that cantatas were mostly performed with solo voices. The members of the choir also sing the solo parts. The soprano parts are divided over all three singers. Gunhild Lang-Alsvik makes the best impression with some stylish and expressive singing. Felicitas Fuchs uses a little vibrato, and Sonja Bühler even more so which damages the overall impression of this recording. The bass parts are all sung by Markus Flaig, and he is the most impressive soloist on this disc. He has a beautiful voice and his delivery is excellent, bringing to the fore the full depth of his parts. Michael Feyfar and the two altos are alright. It has to be said, though, that the recitatives should have been taken with more rhythmic freedom. They also tend to be a little too slow. The string players do a fine job, but sometimes their playing could be a bit stronger and more gestural.

On balance, though, this is a fine disc and another interesting and important addition to the growing discography of Graupner recordings.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Anton-Webern-Chor Freiburg

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