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Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760)
Jauchzet, ihr Himmel, freue dich, Erde - Bassoon Cantatas
Hebet eure Augen auf gen Himmel (GWV 1102/40) [25:11]
Jauchzet, ihr Himmel, freue dich, Erde (GWV 1105/43) [19:50]
Jesu, mein Herr und Gott allein (GWV 1109/37) [18:42]
Kehre wieder, du abtrünnige Israel (GWV 1125/43) [20:05]
Ach, bleib' bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ (GWV 1129/46) [16:37]
Wir werden Ihn sehen (GWV 1169/49) [18:17]
Monika Mauch (soprano), Franz Vitzthum (alto), Georg Poplutz (tenor), Dominik Wörner (bass)
Kirchheimer BachConsort/Florian Heyerick
rec. live, 2020, Protestant Church, Kirchheim/Weinstraße, Germany
CPO 555 353-2 [1.59:05]

Christoph Graupner is pretty hot these days. In recent years a number of recordings of his works have been released. Among them is a set of fourteen discs with his complete keyboard music (Brilliant Classics, to be reviewed in due course). The German label CPO focuses on the recording of his vocal works, in particular his sacred cantatas. Among them are a disc with cantatas for Epiphany and a series of four discs devoted to a cycle of Passion cantatas. The theme of the production to be reviewed here is not a particular stage in the ecclesiastical year, but rather the scoring; all six cantatas include arias with an obbligato part for bassoon.

Graupner's oeuvre has several notable features. One of these is his adventurous scoring; he often includes parts for less common instruments, such as the oboe d'amore, the viola d'amore and - the most curious of them all - the flauto d'amore. No other composer of his time so frequently wrote parts for the chalumeau, and in different pitches at that: from soprano to bass. And then we have the bassoon. This instrument was mainly used as part of the basso continuo group, especially in combination with woodwind instruments. Antonio Vivaldi was virtually the only composer from the first half of the 18th century, who wrote a substantial number of solo concertos for the bassoon. In Germany, few composers gave the bassoon any substantial solo part in 'orchestral' or chamber music. Even in Telemann's oeuvre it plays a minor role. His chamber music was intended for amateurs, and very few of them may have been able to play the bassoon.

Graupner's solo parts for bassoon were certainly out of reach for them. He composed four solo concertos and in his cantatas from the period 1736 to 1749 no fewer than 95 arias have an obbligato bassoon part. Graupner was inspired to write these parts by a brilliant bassoonist who entered the service of the Darmstadt court in 1736: Johann Christian Klotsch, who had previously worked in Zerbst. The technical demands of the bassoon parts in Graupner's cantatas and of the solo parts in the concertos bear witness to Klotsch's skills on his instrument.

Two things are notable as far as Graupner's cantatas are concerned. First: the main vocal parts are for soprano and bass. Alto and tenor play a minor role; they mostly sing recitatives and some duets. The explanation is that Graupner - as any composer of his time - made use of what was available. That could be - as in the case of the six cantatas in this production - a virtuosic instrumentalist, or brilliant singers. Whereas churches had to comply with the general rule that women were not allowed to sing in the liturgy, aristocrats were free to follow their own principles and preferences. Graupner's employer attracted several renowned opera singers. Two of them were appointed in 1709, at the same time as Graupner, two years later followed by a third. This was certainly inspired by his wish to perform operas. Like Graupner, the three singers were involved in the Oper am Gänsemarkt in Hamburg, and the composition of operas was also to be the main task of Graupner. However, for financial reasons, Landgrave Ernst Ludwig of Hesse-Darmstadt had to give up his plans for regular opera performances. As a result, Graupner had to confine himself to the composition and performance of sacred and secular cantatas as well as orchestral and chamber music. He made a virtue of necessity and explored the presence of female virtuosos at the court chapel to write technically demanding parts for soprano. For the bass parts, he could rely on Gottfried Grünewald, his deputy, who was an excellent singer. Graupner knew him from his time in Leipzig, where Grünewald was a singer in the St Thomas Choir and a pupil of Thomaskantor Schelle. He had also sung in the Hamburg opera, and therefore he was perfectly suited to perform in sacred cantatas, alongside the three ladies.

Second: Graupner mostly 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. There can be little doubt that the two men worked closely together, and this means that the texture may well reflect Graupner's own preferences.

Anyone who knows Bach's cantatas will notice the differences. Whereas the latter mostly open with a chorus, Graupner either starts with a chorale for four voices or a dictum for solo voice(s). The chorales are different from those in Bach's cantatas: they are homophonic and the instruments provide the counterpoint; it lends them the character of chorale arrangements. That procedure is repeated at the end of the cantata; sometimes another stanza from the same chorale is sung to the same music. We don't find here chorale harmonizations like those in Bach's cantatas. Several of the cantatas included here open with a dictum, a quotation from the Bible.

Hebet eure Augen auf gen Himmel is a cantata for the second Sunday of Advent. It opens with a dictum, scored for alto and tenor with strings, and taken from Isaiah 51:6 "Lift up your eyes to the heavens". This piece and the entire cantata are dominated by rising figures, reflecting the opening words. The soprano aria ("Awake, ye self-assured souls") is an example of a virtuosic piece in operatic style, in which the upper end of the singer's tessitura is explored. The bass aria ("Come, Lord, save your creation") is a duet of the singer and the bassoon. The rising figures in the latter's part have mainly the form of arpeggiated triads. The cantata ends with a chorale by Ahasverus Fritsch (1629-1701) on the melody of Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern.

Jauchzet, ihr Himmel, freue dich, Erde is intended for the first day of Christmas. It opens again with a dictum, taken from Isaiah 49:13 "Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth" and scored for four voices with an ensemble of two horns, four timpani, strings and basso continuo. Graupner often prefers soft-grained instruments, such as the chalumeaus, but here the joyful nature of Christmas requires a louder instrumental apparatus. The first aria ("God's Son has been born a man") is for soprano with bassoon; the horns and timpani only participate in the ritornellos. The second aria is of a more intimate nature: "World, keep your joy, for Jesus is my delight". The bass is accompanied here by the strings (the violins play in unison). In this performance the bassoon participates in the basso continuo. The cantata ends with the chorale "Ich will dich mit Fleiß bewahren", which Bach used in his Christmas Oratorio.

Jesu, mein Herr und Gott allein is a cantata for New Year's Day, also the Feast of the Circumcision. It opens with a chorale ("Jesus, my only Lord and God") on the melody of Vater unser im Himmelreich. It is scored for two chalumeaus (tenor and bass), four timpani, strings and basso continuo. The first aria is for soprano ("Jesus is the best of names") with an accompaniment of strings and basso continuo. The second aria is for bass ("Those who have Jesus have every blessing") and has a rather lyrical character, which is also reflected by the obbligato bassoon part. The last recitative (for bass) and the closing chorus are more specifically connected to New Year's Day: "Hear our cries, Jesus, grant a merciful year".

Kehre wieder, du abtrünnige Israel is a cantata for Palm Sunday, and opens with a dictum, taken from Jeremiah 3:12-13 "Return, faithless Israel, says the Lord". The tenor is accompanied here by strings and basso continuo. The scoring of this cantata is very modest: the strings are only joined by an obbligato bassoon in the second aria for bass. The dictum is followed by an accompanied recitative for alto, who then sings an aria with strings and basso continuo: "Jesus comes to comfort sinners". The participation of a bassoon in the bass aria reflects the text: "Mighty Redeemer from on high, rescue your Christendom!" The first violin is given an obbligato part as well. The aria is followed by a recitative for tenor, and the cantata closes with the 14th stanza from the chorale Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele.

Ach bleib' bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ is a cantata for the second day of Easter. The opening chorale refers to the story of the men of Emmaus. This cantata is scored for four voices, two chalumeaus (tenor and bass), strings and basso continuo. The chalumeaus play a marked role here. The bassoon participates in the first aria, scored for soprano: "Jesus approaches the weak of heart". Both parts are technically demanding; the bassoon part includes staccato episodes. The second aria is a duet for tenor and bass, accompanied by the two chalumeaus and the strings. It has no dacapo. The cantata closes with the second stanza of the chorale which opened it.

Wir werden Ihn sehen is the latest cantata of these six and was intended for the Feast of the Purification, on 2 February 1749. It is again scored for a large ensemble of two chalumeaus (alto and bass), bassoon, two horns, four timpani, strings and basso continuo. It opens with a dictum for tenor and strings; the text is taken from the first letter of St John 3:2-3 "We will see him as he is". It is followed by a duet of tenor and bass, who are accompanied by horns and timpani, alongside the strings. The full ensemble participates in the second aria, for soprano "Wash me in your blood". Here Graupner separates the ensemble into two 'choirs': one consists of the two chalumeaus and the bassoon, in which the latter takes the role of the bass in the trio, and the other comprises the horns and the timpani. The latter only play in the ritornellos. This way Graupner prevents the softer chalumeaus and bassoon to be overpowered by the horns and timpani. The cantata includes two chorales. The closing chorale is Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele. In the centre is "Selig sind die funden werden", which is the 7th stanza of the chorale Kommt, und laßt den Herrn euch lehren, whose text was written by David Denicke (1603-1680), on the same melody as Freu dich sehr.

If one needed further proof of Graupner's independent mind as a composer, this set of discs delivers it in abundance. These cantatas are vintage Graupner. The texture, the instrumental scoring, the virtuosity of many arias and the graphic text illustration in the recitatives, they all demonstrate the brilliance of the man, who his employer did not want to go when the city council of Leipzig wanted him to succeed Johann Kuhnau as Thomaskantor. That is easy to understand. One can only speculate what his cantata oeuvre may have looked like, had he gone to Leipzig. He probably would not have cooperated so closely with the author of his texts, and he probably would have had fewer opportunities to develop and follow his own preferences. We would have been without a unique voice.

Florian Heyerick is one of the most prominent promoters of Graupner's oeuvre and has enriched the discography with a number of excellent recordings. This is another one. He had the good luck of having a brilliant bassoonist at his disposal in the person of Sergio Azzolini, who can handle everything thrown at him. He does more than just play the notes; he makes music in a most impressive way, paying full attention to the expressive features of his part. The four soloists are some of the best in Germany in the realm of sacred music. Few are as expressive as Dominik Wörner, again a driving force in this recording. His interpretation of the recitatives is masterful and often powerful, but he can also be very subtle, such as in "Komm, Herr, rette dein Geschöpfe" (Hebet eure Augen auf gen Himmel). Monika Mauch is not known in the first place for her participation in opera, but she deals very well with the operatic arias she has to sing here. She has no problems with the technical demands of her parts, for instance with regard to tessitura. Only now and then she uses a bit more vibrato than usual. This may be the effect of these performances being recorded live. I would have preferred studio recordings. Franz Vitzthum and Georg Poplutz have smaller roles to play, but do so very well. The playing of the entire ensemble is first class, and I would like to point out specifically the playing of the chalumeaus. One understands why Graupner liked to include these lovely instruments in his works.

As so often with CPO productions, the booklet contains several errors. In track 07 of CD1, the lines of the chorale have been mixed up. In the first aria of Jesu, mein Herr und Gott allein (CD 1, track 16), the second line is omitted. The text is: "Jesus kann uns alles sein" (Jesus can be everything to us). In Wir werden ihn sehen the text of the closing chorale has been inserted into the first chorale in the middle of the cantata.

Johan van Veen

Previous review: Brian Wilson

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