Christoph GRAUPNER (1683 - 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 dich'.
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 Kleine Konzert.
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
There is hardly a better way to get to know Graupner's individual vocal style than with this disc.