The brothers Graun have been given something of a renaissance in recent years, thanks in no small part to recordings from CPO. You can read about their Trio Sonatas here, concertos here, and the Te Deum here, to name just a few.
Christoph Henzel’s excellent booklet notes cite the renown of Carl Heinrich Graun’s Passion cantata Der Tod Jesu as the reason for the neglect of his other works, along with an 18th century drop in the fashion for religious music. The origins of the Easter Oratorio are shrouded in mystery, and while numerous similarities with other works are pointed out the debate appears to remain unresolved. Comparison with Graun’s Christmas Oratorio in terms of contrast and agreement make up a sizeable chunk of the commentary, and no-one who is a fan of that work should be without the Easter Oratorio. Sung texts in German and English are given in full in the booklet, though there is something funny going on with breaks in words throughout, something even an amateur line-editor could easily have cured.
This oratorio is written in four parts, each designed to have been performed for the three successive Easter holidays and the Sunday after Easter. Each part has its own narrative and internal musical logic, but there is also plenty of continuity and the whole thing fits together well as a concert entity. The general mood is one of joy: Christ has risen and all is well with the world. This is lifted at crucial moments by some festive bumps on the timpani and triumphant brass to go along with appropriate arias and choruses. Darker messages tend to be swept through in recitatives, none of which are particularly extended. One of the few minor-key chorales, Tod, Sünd, Teufel, Leben und Gnad which concludes the second part is only 38 seconds long, which is symptomatic of the emphasis on happy moods. There are no great surprises here, though the music is of top quality, and there are gorgeous moments such as the extended counterpoint which opens Part Two, and the duet Ach, mein Jesu! in Part Four with its pedal tones and low horns.
The soloists are very good, though the tenor Jan Kobow is not at his best hitting the top notes in the word-painting of ‘erschallen’ in Sagt’s den Jüngern. Soprano Nina Koufochristou is sweet and angelic, alto Dagmar Saskova is light and expressive, bass Andreas Wolf nicely clean sounding and with excellent diction. The Kölner Akademie plays superbly and the recorded balance is good. All in all this is a lovely document of a handsome work – very much of its time, but none the worse for that.