- 1760) Christmas Cantatas Frohlocke, werte Christenheit [14:15] Der Herr hat mich gehabt im Anfang [13:30] Das Licht des Lebens scheinet hell [16:57] Das Licht scheinet in der Finsternis [14:48] Von Gott will ich nicht lassen [15:04]
Veronika Winter (soprano), Franz Vitzthum (alto), Jan Kobow (tenor),
Markus Flaig (bass)
Das Kleine Konzert/Hermann Max
rec. 27-29 January 2010, Cologne, Chamber music auditorium of Deutschlandfunk.
CPO 777 572-2 [73:44]
One of the most remarkable things about German composers of
the 17th and 18th centuries is the size of their oeuvre. One
wonders where they found the time to compose so many works,
considering the general slowness of life. It took days to travel
from one part of Germany to another, and weeks to go from Germany
abroad. Writing a composition by hand, copying parts for all
performers, teaching, rehearsing - it is just amazing how much
work they had to do. And in addition, there was an insatiable
demand for music which they had to satisfy. This is also the
main reason they composed so much.
Take Christoph Graupner: the number of his cantatas is estimated
at about 1400! He had to deliver a cantata for every Sunday,
plus all feastdays, plus special events like the birthday of
his employer. And then there was the instrumental music, both
chamber and orchestral music, which was played as entertainment.
Reusing old material was no option: music which was more than
10 years old was considered old-fashioned. As Graupner worked
in Darmstadt from 1709 until his death there was no material
his employer hadn't heard before.
But by good fortune he had some assistance. From 1713 to 1738
the cantatas for the first and third Christmas days - one of
the busiest periods of the year - were written by his assistant
chapel master, Gottfried Grünewald. The second Christmas day
was also the birthday of his employer, so the music for that
day, which had to be particularly festive, was written by Graupner
himself. He also composed the music for New Year, and the following
Sundays, including Epiphany and Candlemas.
Four of the five cantatas on this disc date from the 1740s.
Graupner used texts which were provided by his brother-in-law,
the theologian Johann Conrad Lichtenberg, who for a number of
years wrote a cycle of cantata texts every year. The cantatas
consist of a sequence of recitatives, arias and chorales, but
the texture varies.
Frohlocke, werte Christenheit, begins with a chorus on
a free poetic text. This is followed by two pairs of recitative
and aria, for bass and soprano respectively, and closes with
a harmonisation of two stanzas from the old hymn 'Ein Kind geborn
zu Bethlehem'. The vocal parts are embedded in lively orchestral
figurations which is typical of Graupner's treatment of chorales.
This practice has its roots in the 17th century, and was often
used by composers like Johann Kuhnau and Johann Ludwig Bach.
Der Herr hat mich gehabt im Anfang and Das Licht scheinet
in der Finsternis both begin with a dictum, a quotation
from the Bible. The former has a recitative for bass and a duet
for alto and tenor, who mostly sing in parallel motion, which
is only broken at the end. The duet is followed by a recitative
and an aria for tenor, and closes with a stanza from Luther's
hymn 'Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ'.
The latter also contains a duet, this time for tenor and bass.
There is a strong contrast in the vocal and instrumental parts
between section A and section B, reflecting the juxtaposition
of light and darkness in the text. The preceding recitative
for bass is a perfect example of Graupner's effective treatment
of the text.
Das Licht des Lebens scheinet hell opens with an accompanied
recitative for bass, who then sings an aria. This is followed
by a chorale - a stanza from 'Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher
Geist'. Then the soprano sings a recitative and an aria, and
the alto has a recitative which ends in an accompagnato at the
last line. The cantata ends with another stanza from 'Ermuntre
The last cantata of this disc, Von Gott will ich nicht lassen,
is the only one which dates from the period that Grünewald was
active. It was written for the second Sunday after Epiphany,
18 January 1728. But during the winter season 1727/28 Grünewald
was ill. Because of that he wasn't able to compose, and Graupner
had to write all cantatas himself. As Grünewald also participated
in the performances as a bass, Graupner omitted bass parts in
his cantatas. This shows that at that time cantatas were performed
with one voice per part, which is also practised in this recording.
This particular cantata is the only one from this period that
has a bass part. One may conclude that Graupner temporarily
had a bass at his disposal, but probably a not very experienced
one as he only participates in the three chorale settings.
These are three stanzas from the hymn 'Von Gott will ich nicht
lassen' (1563). The cantata opens with the first stanza, which
is followed by a recitative for the tenor, who then sings a
duet with the alto which is an eloquent expression of the text:
"Jesus provides. Now away, you cares!" This is followed
by another stanza from the hymn. Next are a recitative and an
aria for soprano. In the latter she is accompanied by a trio
of two oboes and bassoon which are joined by the strings in
the ritornelli. The cantata closes with another stanza from
the hymn 'Von Gott will ich nicht lassen'.
During his career Graupner has developed a musical language
of his own, which is not comparable with anything written in
his time. His compositions are certainly not easy-listening
stuff as recent recordings of his instrumental oeuvre show.
Of his vocal music very little has been performed and recorded
as yet. There is hardly a better way to get to know his vocal
oeuvre than with this disc.
These five cantatas are varied in scoring and offer a number
of beautiful arias and duets. It is particularly advisable to
pay attention to the way Graupner uses the instruments to express
the Affekte of the texts. Things could hardly be better.
The four soloists are completely congenial and their voices
blend perfectly, as the chorale settings show. The individual
performances of the singers are also excellent; the delivery
is immaculate thanks to good diction and pronunciation. The
instrumental parts are engagingly given by the members of Das
The booklet contains extensive programme notes and all the lyrics
have an English translation. In various tracks the lines are
printed in the wrong order.
Johan van Veen
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