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Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760)
Das Leiden Jesu – Passion Cantatas I (1741)
Erzitte, toll und freche Welt, GWV 1120/41 [23:17]
Christus, der uns selig macht, GWV 1121/41 [22:05]
Fürwahr, er trug unsere Krankheit, GWV 1125/41 [21:04]
Solistenensemble Ex Tempore
Barockorchester Mannheimer Hofkapelle/Florian Heyerick
rec. February 2016, Pauluskirche Darmstadt
CPO 555 071-2 [68:41]

The CPO label has already done us proud with their growing number of titles representing the music of Christoph Graupner, and this looks like being the first of a series with recordings of Graupner’s ten cantatas for the period of Lent on the subject of the Passion and death of Jesus.

Composed on texts by Johann Conrad Lichtenberg, these cantatas were written for the Darmstadt court of Duke Ernest Ludwig. Ursula Kramer, one of three writers involved in the booklet notes, points out the experimental nature of Graupner’s work in these circumstances – with over four decades in charge of the court orchestra and, while by no means entirely isolated from musical developments elsewhere in Europe, certainly very free to work on signature innovations in terms of instrumentation and form. Remarkable pieces such as the duet Jesus fühlet Höllenflammen, ‘Jesus feels the flames of hell,’ in the first of these three cantatas are a case in point. This particular example having striking descriptive repeated note figures that might remind one of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and a characteristically dramatic transparency of texture, contrasting bare settings with a single violin or duo with cello against weighty and sometimes strikingly angular ensemble passagework. The brief text is extended with repetition and elaboration, the voices clashing and resolving their harmonies with piercing expressive intent.

All texts are printed in the booklet in German and English, and it’s always fascinating to see what Graupner does with his texts. The opening chorale of Christus, die uns selig macht is rather special in this regard, the instrumental colour juiced up with a chalumeaux clarinet, the chorus dividing and creating its own little crowd scene as Christ is “falsely accused, mocked and spat upon…” These cantatas are full of superb music and great little illustrative touches, such as the oboe inflections that adorn the bass aria Schwert und Stangen, starke Scharen. Unmistakable and forceful emotional engagement can also be found all over the place, particularly in heartbreaking arias such as Das Lamm, mein Heiland, liegt gefangen, the opening of which will stop you in your tracks for sure.

There is no let-up in quality in these cantatas, and the third, Fürwahr, er trug unsere Krankheit dealing with “The passion of Jesus in painful flogging,” seems to anticipate Schubert in the dramatic aria Harte Herzen with its urgent repeated notes and bassoon prodding us with guilty barbs as we “carry on under Satan’s yoke of sin”. With superb performances, excellent recording and well-prepared booklet notes, this is something of a triumph and certainly a significant discovery even for Graupner fans who collect these CPO recordings on a regular basis.

Dominy Clements



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