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Christoph GRAUPNER (1683 - 1760): "Duo-Kantaten"

Miriam Feuersinger, soprano; Franz Vitzthum, alto
Capricornus Consort Basel

rec: May 7 - 9, 2018, Binningen (CH), Katholische Kirche Heilig Kreuz
Christophorus - CHR 77427 (© 2018) (65'09")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Canon all'unisono in B flat (TWV 218) (grave); Demüthiget euch nun (GWV 1144/12); Overture in F (GWV 445) (Le Desire); Sonata in D (GWV 204) (affettuoso); Sonata in g minor (GWV 724); Waffne dich, mein Geist, zu kämpfen (GWV 1148/20); Weg, verdammtes Sündenleben (GWV 1147/20); Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen seyn (GWV 1143/12)

Peter Barczi, Eve Borhi, violin; Matthias Jäggi, viola; Daniel Rosin, cello; Julian Behr, theorbo; David Blunden, organ

One of the most astonishing stories in music history is the process which resulted in Johann Sebastian Bach's appointment as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. Today his is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest composer of all times, but the Leipzig authorities had other ideas. "[Since] the best man cannot be obtained, mediocre ones will have to be accepted", one member of the city council stated. When Telemann refused to accept his appointment, Christoph Graupner was the next on the list. "Leipzig would have been pleased to appoint him, but Landgrave Ernst Ludwig refused to release him from his service in Darmstadt. (...) We have the landgrave to thank for his decision which gave rise to the over 150 cantatas, the Christmas Oratorio and the passions which Johann Sebastian Bach composed as the subsequently employed cantor of St Thomas's in Leipzig - alongside the artistically equally valuable hundreds of cantatas and instrumental works which Christoph Graupner would create in his remaining three decades in Darmstadt" (Bernd Heyder, booklet).

The cantatas recorded by Miriam Feuersinger, Franz Vitzthum and the Capricornus Consort Basel deliver further proof of the quality of Graupner's compositional output, which is in the process of being discovered in our time. Among the first interpreters who have played a crucial role in the explorarion of his oeuvre, are Siegbert Rampe, who recorded a number of instrumental works, Geneviève Soly, who took care of his keyboard music, and conductors as Hermann Max and Florian Heyerick, who focussed on his sacred music. In recent years others have also turned to this part of his oeuvre, which comprises about 1,400 cantatas, written over a period of more than forty years.

The programme includes four cantatas from two different stages in Graupner's career: 1712 and 1720 respectively. The former are settings of texts by the court librarian Georg Christoph Lehms, which were published in 1711. He was a learned poet and experienced in the writing of texts to be set to music. During his time as student in Leipzig he wrote libretti for the city's opera house. He later worked in Weißenfels and moved to Darmstadt in 1710. Lehms died in 1717, and in the following years Graupner set texts from the pen of Johann Conrad Lichtenberg, a theologian and since 1717 Graupner's brother-in-law.

The scoring of these four cantatas is notable. In many of Graupner's cantatas the main solo parts are allocated to soprano and bass. As the cantatas were performed in the private chapel of the Landgrave, he could disregard the ban on female performers in church. As he had engaged several highly accomplished female sopranos, who were experienced in opera, Graupner explored their skills in his soprano arias. Anna Maria Schober and Margaretha Susanna Kayser had been part of the Hamburg opera, and Johanna Elisabeth Döbricht had performed at the Leipzig opera. The arias in the cantatas included here are often quite demanding, especially in the exploration of the highest part of the soprano's tessitura. 'Jesu, teure Kraft der Schwachen' (Waffne dich, mein Geist, zu kämpfen) and 'Ich will, o Jesu, mit dir gehen' (Weg, verdammtes Sündenleben) are impressive examples. For the bass arias Graupner could rely on his deputy Kapellmeister Gottfried Grünewald, who had performed in operas in Leipzig and Hamburg, and who was famous for his wide tessitura.

The fact that two of the four cantatas at the present disc include parts for an alto, is remarkable. They date from 1720, and the alto parts were likely written for the castrato Antonio Gualandi, also known as Campioli, who had been born in Germany but had studied in Italy. He left Darmstadt in 1723 and later sang in operas by Handel in London.

The other two cantatas, dating from 1712, are scored for two sopranos. As we have seen, Graupner could rely on no fewer than three highly-skilled sopranos. However, the second soprano plays a relatively minor role, as she is only involved in two duets and has to solo arias. Moreover, the second soprano part has a lower tessitura, which makes it possible to be performed by a male alto, as in this recording. The duets in all four cantatas have one thing in common: the two voices imitate each other or sing in parallel motion. There is one exception: whereas all these pieces are called duetto, 'Ich bin gedrückt' in Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen seyn is called aria à 2, and that seems no coincidence, as here the two voices have fully independent parts. That is in strong contrast to the opening section of this cantata, where the two sopranos sing the first stanza of this hymn in unison.

The connection between the text of a cantata and the readings of the Sunday for which it is written is not always obvious, and may sometimes be rather loose or even absent. The thread of this particular cantata is the hatred of the world and a prayer to God for retribution. One can see here a vague connection to the Gospel, which is about the parable of the great supper, which divides between the faithful and God's adversaries. The accompanied recitative and ensuing aria for soprano are quite belligerent in nature, which is particularly expressed in the instrumental parts.

Demüthiget euch nun is for the third Sunday after Trinity; it opens with a dictum from the first letter of Peter: "Humble yourselves now under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time". This is the first verse from the Epistle of that Sunday. It is scored as a duet in the form of a prelude and fugue. In the soprano aria the heart is urged to "bow down before God", and this is illustrated by a descending figure.

Weg, verdammtes Sündenleben is written for the 6th Sunday after Trinity, and the Epistle is from Romans 6: Through Christ's death we are dead to sin. The first section is an aria for alto: "Away, damned life of sin". I already mentioned the soprano aria: "Oh Jesus, my wish is to go with thee". In the instrumental accompaniment Graupner illustrates the steps of the sinner "straight into death and to the grave". This aria is not only technically challenging, it is also musically one of the most beautiful pieces on this disc.

Waffne dich, mein Geist, zu kämpfen is a cantata for the 7th Sunday after Trinity. The text is connected to the Epistle, which is again from Romans 6: The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. It opens with an aria for alto, which has the structure of a dacapo aria. However, the B part has the form of a recitative.

This disc is full of wonderful music, and if one wants to know what Graupner's sacred music is about, this is the disc to go for. His music is served very well by all participants. Miriam Feuersinger is quite impressive here, not only technically, in the way she deals with the requirements of these arias, but also in her expression of the text. Franz Vitzthum is in every respect her equal, and the two voices blend perfectly in the duets. I should not forget to mention the role of the instrumentalists; several solo arias are in fact also duets, between voice and violin. Both Peter Barczi and Eva Borhi deliver excellent accounts of these obbligato parts.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Miriam Feuersinger
Franz Vitzthum
Capricornus Consort Basel

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