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Carl Heinrich GRAUN (1704 - 1759) / Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767) / Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): Wer ist der, so von Edom kömmt

Ágnes Kovács, soprano; Péter Bárányi, alto; Zoltán Megyesi, tenor; Lóránt Najbauer, bass
Purcell Choir; Orfeo Orchestra
Dir: György Vashegyi

rec: Jan 14 - 15, 2020, Budapest, Liszt Academy of Music (Grand Hall)
Glossa - GCD 924011 (2 CDs) (© 2021) (1.54'00")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Ildikó Kertész, Vera Balogh, transverse flute; Annelie Matthes, Edit Köházi, oboe, oboe d'amore; Györgyi Farkas, Dóra Király, bassoon; Simon Standage, László Paulik, Enikö Kiss, Ildikó Lang, Györgyi Vörös, Balász Bozzai, Mária Jakubik, Ágnes Kertész, Erzsébet Rácz, violin; László Móré, Eszter Draskóczy, Szilvia Némethy, viola; Piroska Baranyay, Csilla Vályi, cello; Györgyi Janzsó, double bass; Augustin Szokos, organ

In the baroque period, opera pasticcios were quite popular. The procedure was rather simple: recitatives and arias from operas by several composers were put together and performed as a 'new' opera. One of the factors which made the compilation of such a pasticcio rather easy is the fact that some librettos were set by various composers. That way the original story could be kept intact.

This factor explains why oratorio pasticcios are rather rare. The best-known oratorio libretto that was set by several composers, is the so-called Brockes Passion, but as far as I know, a 'Brockes pasticcio' does not exist. The only pasticcio of this kind that I am aware of, is the one which is the subject of the recording under review here. However, it has little in common with opera pasticcios. It would be more correct to call it an arrangement of a Passion oratorio by Carl Heinrich Graun.

As far as the genre of the oratorio is concerned, Graun has become particularly famous for his Passion oratorio Der Tod Jesu, which was first performed in 1755 and which became the Passion oratorio in Germany until well into the 19th century, when it was gradually replaced by the rediscovered St Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach. Graun had written Passion oratorios before. In 1729 he composed Kommt her und schaut, which was called the 'Great Passion'. That indicates that there was also a 'Little Passion'.

The latter is the work on which the pasticcio recorded by György Vashegy (and before by Hermann Max and Gotthold Schwarz respectively) is based. The oratorio, known as Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld, after the first line of the opening chorale, was probably written around 1730. As copies have been found in many archives and libraries, it must have been a very popular work. Once a copy was also part of the library of the St Thomas School in Leipzig, which suggests that Bach has performed it in the Thomaskirche. The pasticcio has been preserved in a copy which is part of the estate of Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel. He may have performed it (or at least planned to do so) in Hamburg. A documented source suggests that the pasticcio may have been performed at Good Friday 1750 in Leipzig. That performance may have been directed by Bach. Could he also been the one who was responsible for this arrangement? (*) Fact is that the second part begins with the chorus which opens Bach's cantata Herr Jesu Christ, wahr'r Mensch und Gott (BWV 127), transposed from F major to E flat major, and adapted in several ways. This is followed by an arioso for bass, 'So heb ich denn mein Auge sehnlich auf', which has been included in new editions of the Schmieder catalogue (BWV 1166), as it is attributed to Bach on stylistic grounds. Also included are six stanzas of the chorale Christus, der uns selig macht, which lend it also a more liturgical character than Graun's original oratorio. It seems possible that these settings also go back to Bach. Lastly, towards the end of this second part the motet Der Gerechte kommt um is inserted. It is Bach's arrangement of the motet Tristis est anima mea by Johann Kuhnau, his predecessor as Thomaskantor in Leipzig.

It should not go unnoticed that the German text is not a translation of the text set to music by Kuhnau, but is taken from the 57th chapter of the book of Isaiah. This text is also known with the Latin text Ecce quomodo moritor justus and has become famous above all in the setting by Jacobus Handl-Gallus, included in the collection Florilegium Portense (1618), which was still used for the liturgy in Bach's time.

The first part of the pasticcio is largely identical with Graun's oratorio. The only adaptations are at the start of the work. The chorale which opens Graun's oratorio is replaced by two pieces from Telemann's cantata Wer ist der, so von Edom kömmt (TWV 1,1585), written for Palm Sunday: the opening chorus and the ensuing chorale Christus, der uns selig macht. The fact that the chorale is the thread in the second part lends the oratorio a strong amount of coherence.

That said, the stylistic differences between Bach and Telemann on the one hand and Graun on the other, are clearly noticeable. After all, Graun was one of the main opera composers in Germany at the time, and that shows here. With other texts, many arias could figure in an opera without any problem. They are often long and technically demanding. In this performance, the soloists rightly add cadenzas now and then. Apart from their technical requirements, the arias certainly are not short on expression. Graun was also a skilled contrapuntalist, and that comes to the fore in the choruses in the first part.

Despite the stylistic differences, this oratorio is coherent enough to compete with better-known oratorios, such as the settings of the Brockes-Passion. That justifies the fact that this work is recorded for a third time. I have not heard Max's recording, but a few years ago I reviewed the recording under the direction of Gotthold Schwarz, which is quite good, but is surpassed by Vashegyi's performance. There are no weak points here; only in the opening chorus the sopranos are a bit too loud. I would also prefer a smaller ensemble for the tutti movements: a choir of 22 (7/5/5/5) is a bit too large. The choruses and hymns, however, are excellently performed; the text is given much attention and is easy to understand, also thanks to the transparency of the sound. The soloists are top notch. Zoltán Megyesi is an extraordinarily good tenor, whom I would like to hear as an evangelist in Bach's Passions. His three colleagues are his equal. The orchestra is also delivering excellent performances. What is most important, though, is that the performance does justice to what this work aims to achieve: communicate the emotions which reflect the nature and impact of what happened on Good Friday.

(*) At Petrucci Music Library there is some interesting information about this work. There Johann Christoph Altnickol is mentioned as being the compiler of this pasticcio as well as the composer of the chorale settings of Christus, der uns selig macht. However, there is no reference to the source for these statements.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Ágnes Kovács
Lóránt Najbauer
Orfeo Orchestra & Purcell Choir

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