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Johann Jeremias du GRAIN (17??-1756)
Sacred Cantatas
Willkommen Erlöser der Erden (1737) [8:47]
Alter Adam, du musst sterben (1737) [17:55]
Herr, nun lässest du Deien Deiner in Frieder gehen (1737) [15:24]
Mitten wir im Leben sind (1738) [27:16]
Marie Smolka (soprano), Elisabeth Holmer (alto), Georg Poplutz (tenor), Marek Rzapka (bass), Goldberg Vocal & Baroque Ensemble / Andrzej Szadejko
rec. 2017, Gdansk
Reviewed in SACD stereo.
MDG 902 2060-6 SACD [71:02]

Not a vast amount appears to be known about Johann Jeremias du Grain, but his activities can be traced through the Northern European seaports of Hamburg, Elbing and Danzig, where he profited from the wealthy Protestant culture for which the cantatas in this recording were in demand. He studied in Hamburg under Georg Philipp Telemann, singing as bass soloist at concerts conducted by his teacher. The works recorded here, representing all of du Grain’s surviving complete music in this genre, all derive from his period at Elbing.

Willkommen Erlöser der Erden was composed for performance on Christmas Day, and its chorus, trumpets and timpani contribute much to a general mood of celebration. There is a virtuoso aria for bass voice, well taken by Marek Rzapa, which may well have been performed by the composer himself. Alter Adam, du musst sterben is an advent cantata for alto solo and orchestra with its focus on the Second Coming of Christ. This is another virtuoso work for both singer and orchestra, the strings of which being asked to imitate stormy weather in the last of three arias, and a pair of horns coming into their own in the final Chorale.

Herr, nun lässest du Deien Deiner in Frieder gehen was composed as part of the music for the 1737 Candlemas service. Written for soprano solo, strings and continuo, this is a piece with a lovely lyrical feel, the scene set by an opening Siciliana, and both arias having an attractively expansive expression, especially the final Brechet, ihr verfallnen Augen. By far the most extensive and ambitious work here is the funeral cantata Mitten wir im Leben sind, written for the mayor of Elbing. Soprano, tenor and bass soloists plus chorus are supported by an orchestra that includes two oboes and four horns, with a bassoon added to the continuo section. There is a feel of opulence from the start in an extended Sinfonia that works in a setting of Mitten wir im Leben sind, and this is sustained in a work that was composed to be divided into two sections, the first ten movements to be performed before the funeral sermon, and the final five afterwards. There is an element of the theatrical at work here, but the restrained affect of movements such as the soprano aria Um Trost ist mir sehr bange add elements of beauty and considerable emotional depth. This contrasts with the uplifting major key of the bass aria Wie herrlich priest and chorus Bin ich den mit Gott versöhnt, adding consolation to the lamenting elsewhere.

This is the fourth in MDG’s ‘Musica Baltica’ series, of which volume 1 was reviewed by Dave Billinge. This would seem to be a desirable set if this recording is anything to go on, with stylishly excellent performances set in a vast acoustic around which the solo voices in particular ricochet in a way that must have caused consternation amongst the sound engineers. Everything is captured very well indeed however, with plenty of instrumental detail and finely judged balance throughout. Aside from Andrzej Szadejko’s own previous recording of Wilkommen, Erlöser der Erden on the Sarton label (review) there seem to be precious few recordings of these works around, but this really is something rather special, and if you are looking for something strikingly impressive to supplement your collection of cantatas by G.Ph. Telemann or J.S. Bach then this is a highly recommended place to extend your experience of the genre.

Dominy Clements

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