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Reinhard KEISER (1674-1739)
Dialogues von der Geburt Christi (1707) [30:52]
Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760)

Magnificat in C (1722) [14:08]
Rastatter Hofkapelle/Jürgen Ochs
rec. SWR Studio Baden-Baden, June 2008
CARUS 83.417 [45:00]
Experience Classicsonline

Keiser was a pupil at the Thomasschule in Leipzig for seven years before moving on to musical appointments in Brunswick and Hamburg. He was a prolific opera and oratorio composer. Long tenure in Hamburg saw visits from Handel, collaboration with Telemann, and a steady stream of religious and secular compositions.

His Dialogues von der Geburt Chrsti dates from 1707. This is a work of great piety. It’s also a work of considerable concision and essentially homophonic. Yet within that structure Keiser writes with considerable flexibility, not least for the accompanying instrumental forces which are constantly varied, and consistently imaginative in their deployment. The immediacy and excitement – the sense of anticipation reflected in music and text – starts early with an opening chorus of arresting strength. Keiser’s schema is precise but also charming in places. The undulating line of the bass aria Heller Glanz von’s Vaters Licht is both witty in itself but also reflects the shining light that penetrates the text’s ‘grey of eternity’. One might also have suggested that Keiser was an adept writer for the stage for the sense of compressed tension he brings to the Terzetto Es klopft noch unsre volle Brust [track 13] where the halting unease in the musical line reflects precisely the beating anxious hearts the text evokes. Elsewhere there are consoling arias and choruses – an especially fine quasi-lullaby in O Jesu parvule – and as ever with the composer, those constantly shifting accompanying instrumental colours, always deployed with intelligence and an ear for colour. It’s a practical, uplifting work set on a small scale and very well sung and played by the solo voices, instrumentalists and choral forces of Rastatter Hofkapelle.

The coupling is Graupner’s Magnificat in C written fifteen years later. It’s a spirited and vivacious little work lasting around fourteen minutes. As with Keiser Graupner was also a Saxon and also attended the Thomasschule – and followed the drift to Hamburg as well, where he worked as a harpsichord player. In 1709 he became vice-Kapellmeister in Darmstadt and after promotion remained there until he died in 1760. He churned out a prodigious number of sacred cantatas – 1,400 is the figure Christine Blanken mentions in her booklet notes. It’s assumed that the Magnificat was composed as an application for the position of Thomaskantor back in Leipzig, since Magnificat settings were not customary at the time in Darmstadt. In any event his employer vetoed the application.

The Christmas spirit is strongly audible in this spirited, trumpet-proud setting. The oboe writing is eloquent and whilst his instrumental writing in this work is generally less intricate than Keiser’s in his Dialogues it’s no less practical and effective. The choruses are dynamic and melodies broadly triadic. Once again the performances evoke the sense of time and place with great effectiveness and the recording, though unusually in my Carus experience taped in the SWR Studio Baden-Baden and not in a church or cathedral, is equally effective and not too cold.

Full texts are provided with translations into English (Keiser) and from the Latin into German, English and French (Graupner). A splendid festive offering from Carus – albeit short value at forty five minutes.

Jonathan Woolf



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