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Miriam Feuersinger, sopranoa
Capricornus Consort Basel
Dir: Peter Barczi

rec: Oct 6 - 9, 2015, Binningen (CH), Katholische Kirche Heilig Kreuz
Christophorus - CHR 77399 (© 2016) (64'57")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet
Score JS Bach
Score Graupner

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (BWV 199)a; Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760): Mein Herz schwimmt in Blut (GWV 1152/12b)a; Johann KUHNAU (1660-1722): Weicht, ihr Sorgen, aus dem Herzenab; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Quartet in G (TWV 43,G5)

Xenia Löffler, oboe; Peter Barczi, Eva Borhi, violin; Matthias Jäggi, Martina Bischofb, viola; Daniel Rosin, cello; Michael Bürgin, violone; Julian Behr, theorbo; David Blunden, organ

The cantata takes a central place in German sacred music of the 18th century, at least in the Protestant part of Germany. Here two lines come together: the habit of writing liturgical music in the vernacular - the direct effect of the Lutheran Reformation - and the increasing popularity of the Italian style, and especially the Italian chamber cantata and opera, since the late 17th century. The best-known specimens of this development are the almost 200 cantatas from the pen of Johann Sebastian Bach. Although a part of his output has been lost there can be no doubt that two of his colleagues were much more prolific in their composition of this kind of cantatas: Georg Philipp Telemann and Christoph Graupner. The latter's oeuvre includes about 1,400 cantatas and we are just at the beginning of their being explored.

Composers of cantatas often used texts by poets from their immediate environment. Graupner, for instance, frequently set texts from the pen of his brother-in-law, the theologian Johann Conrad Lichtenberg whereas Bach used a number of texts written by Christian Heinrich Henrici, better known as Picander, from Leipzig. The present disc includes two settings of the same text which was written by Georg Christian Lehms (1684-1717), librarian at the court in Darmstadt where Graupner worked most of his life and where he composed his complete oeuvre of sacred music. Such cantatas were often published and that is how Bach must have come to know the text.

Mein Herz(e) schwimmt in (im) Blut is intended for the 11th Sunday after Trinity. The text links up with the Gospel of the day which is the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18, 9-14). The protagonist begins by lamenting about his sinful state, then confesses his sins and asks for forgiveness, finding comfort in Christ's death at the Cross. He then expresses his joy of the reconciliation with God in the closing aria. Graupner's setting dates from 1709, Bach's cantata was probably first performed in August 1713 or 1714. Bach returned to this cantata several times, in Cöthen (between 1717 and 1723) and in Leipzig (1723). The poets of cantatas usually indicated the form of the texts which explains that these two settings have exactly the same structure. The scoring is not that different: in both cases the solo part is for soprano, accompanied by strings and bc. Bach adds an obbligato part for oboe which plays a major role in the expression of the text. That is especially the case in the first aria, 'Stumme Seufzer, stille Klagen' where its sound perfectly fits the lamenting tenor of the text: "Mute sighs, silent cries, you may tell my sorrows, for my mouth is shut". However, Graupner's setting is not less effective in its frequent pauses and the strings playing staccato chords. With these means Graupner emphasizes the sighs and the silence the text refers to. There are some similarities between the two settings of the second aria, 'Tief gebückt und voller Reue', not only in the melodic material but also the scoring. Both Bach and Graupner confine themselves to the strings; Graupner omits them in the second section. This modesty in the instrumental scoring emphasizes the text, a prayer for mercy: ""I acknlowedge my guilt; but yet have patience, have patience yet with me". Both settings end with an aria in dance rhythm, Bach's with a pastoral 12/8 rhythm, Graupner's with the use of a dotted motif.

The juxtaposition of these two settings is highly interesting. Bach's cantata is one of his most famous, Graupner's setting is hardly known but is in no way inferior to Bach's. With different means he achieves the same amount of expression and there is no reason why it should not be just as well-known as Bach's cantata.

Johann Kuhnau was Bach's immediate predecessor as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. He has the name of having been rather conservative, because of his criticism of modern trends in sacred music, especially in regard to the influence of the Italian style. However, that reputation is a little one-sided; his oeuvre includes a number of cantatas in which he makes use of recitatives and arias, and Weicht, ihr Sorgen, aus dem Herzen is one of them. The liner-notes don't mention the year of composition; that may not be known. Its texture suggests that it must have been composed at about the same time as Bach and Graupner wrote their settings of Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut. It opens with a short sonata which is followed attacca by an aria. Next is a sequence of three recitatives and arias. The arias have a rudimentary da capo structure: they end with a repeat of the opening line but not strictly with the same music. The five-part scoring - two violins, two violas and bc - is a relic of the 17th century. This cantata was intended for the 15th Sunday after Trinity; the Gospel of the day is from the Sermon on the Mount and especially that part in which Jesus calls his disciples not to worry and to trust in God's care. This is expressed in the opening aria: "Begone, you sorrows, from the heart, for I am happy in God."

Miriam Feuersinger is a specialist in German music and has pretty much the ideal voice for this kind of repertoire. That comes very clearly to the fore here: the diction and articulation are flawless; it is very easy to understand the text without reading the lyrics in the booklet. She delivers expressive performances of the cantatas; in particular the more lamenting parts come off impressively. In the two closing arias she is probably a little less convincing and that is partly due to the tempo; 'Wie freudig ist mein Herz' from Bach's setting is a shade too slow. I am also not happy with the ornamentation; I don't think this aria needs any. However, the main problem is the instrumental part. Xenia Löffler is excellent in the oboe part in Bach's cantata but the strings are dynamically too flat. There should have been a more pronounced contrast between good and bad notes and generally a more rhetorical and gestural interpretation of the instrumental parts.

That is also the case in Telemann's Quartet in G. It has been preserved in manuscript in the library of the Dresden court (the so-called Schrank II) and is scored for two violins, viola and bc. It is an early work which explains why it is dominated by counterpoint. Here the lack of dynamic contrasts results in a performance which is not fully convincing. The tempo indications in the booklet are partly wrong; the copy which is available at the Petrucci Music Library has adagio, presto (not allegro), largo (not adagio) and allegro.

These critical remarks shouldn't withhold anybody from adding this disc to his collection. In particular Graupner's cantata is a fine specimen of his art and confirms the impression of previous recordings of his cantatas. There is definitely still much to look forward to as Graupner's sacred music is in the process of being further explored. As far as the vocal part is concerned Bach's cantata receives here one of the finest performances that I know. Kuhnau's vocal music is always well worth listening to and he is another composer whose oeuvre is still seriously underexposed.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Miriam Feuersinger
Capricornus Consort Basel

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