Notes and Editorial Reviews
Wir wissen, dass Trübsal Geduld bringet. Wo gehet Jesu hin? Freund, warum bist du kommen? Mein Gott! Mein Gott!
Hans Michael Beuerle, cond; Anton Webern CCh; Concerto Grosso Ens
CARUS 83.457 (70:46
Text and Translation)
Any composer worth anything in North Germany during the early part of the 18th century wrote cantatas. The most obvious examples today are, of course, Telemann and Johann Sebastian Bach, the latter of whom has at least three complete sets already available. Telemann even published generic sets intended for everyday usage in smaller churches, works that are by any stretch of the imagination hardly generic themselves, but rather show an awareness of both performance limitations and a well-integrated musical structure that was by no means ordinary. The reason I mention this is as an introduction to this disc, which contains four of the 1,400 or so cantatas by Christoph Graupner (1683–1760), another of Bach’s friends and competitors for the post at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig (Graupner got the job but his patron, the Landgrave of Hess-Darmstadt, upped his salary enough that he turned it down, leaving the road open for Bach). While one tends to equate the Lutheran church cantata with Bach, this astounding number of works clearly indicates that there is much, much more out there, and one might suspect that the world had better be prepared to be inundated. This disc is likely just the first of a coming wave of revivals of the genre.
One thing one learns about Graupner is that he is every bit as adventurous as his contemporaries, if these four works are any indication. Nowhere is this more evident than in some of the arias, where the composer writes in a style that is more
than Baroque, with lyrical lines, nice dynamic shifts, and short motivic themes that are developed rather than simply spun out. For example, the opening duet of the cantata
has some wonderful antiphonal lyrical interplay between the tenor and bass that is the sort of thing one finds in late Telemann of the 1740s. In the
that opens the cantata
the lyrical bass asks solemn questions above a slow-moving series of dissonances with long resolutions, ending in a homophonic chorus, “Ach, saurer Gang,” which has declamatory homophonic funeral statements in close chromatic harmony interrupted by passages in a gigue rhythm. The soprano aria “Aller Jammer, alle Plagen” from
Freund, warum bist du kommen?
includes a lovely, sinuous, lyrical line that requires both flexibility and deftness to perform. The chorales are likewise quite inventive, usually with some faster-moving string counterpoint that makes the otherwise hymnlike tune flow. In
, the words taken from one of those final quotes of Christ on the cross, the dictum opening chorus cascades into a fugue on the words “Why have you forsaken me?” One wonders if Haydn knew of this, since there is something very close to his
Seven Last Words
The performance by the Anton Webern Chorus includes the soloists, each of whom emerges from the choir at appropriate moments to do his or her bit. If you are looking for who they are, each does have a brief bio in the booklet, but in order to find out who is doing what, you will need to search among the roster on a different page. This is unnecessarily complex and useless, though of course it does equalize them with the remainder of the 12-voice ensemble. It is a shame, really, for bass Markus Flaig has one of those light German voices that is flexible and quite expressive, especially in his many recitatives. It also fits well with tenor Michael Feyfar, especially in their opening duet noted above. Soprano Gunhild Lang-Alsvik is secure and right on pitch in her
and aria “Alle Jammer,” which makes the twisting coloratura seem effortless, though her colleague Felicitas Fuchs is slightly under pitch in her aria “Jesu, öffne mir die Augen” from the disc’s second cantata. Barbara Ostertag’s alto is likewise clean in her
“Ihr Freunde” from the same cantata, lending it a nice transparency. Beuerle does keep the tempos moving along nicely, and I find the interpretation of these works, particularly the passages with Graupner’s gnarly harmony, quite revealing in terms of depth and power. The ensemble, really only a string quintet with either a cembalo or organ continuo, is often underpowered. These cantatas seem to demand a larger orchestra accompaniment (and Graupner certainly had some extremely fine musicians in Darmstadt). Moreover, the recording ambiance often seems muted and dull, as if the microphones were not placed correctly. The result is that the strings retreat into the background, almost as if they were playing continually with mutes. Still, if these works are any indication of the quality of the remaining Graupner cantatas, I shall look forward to further releases, bearing in mind that there are only 1,396 to go.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer