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Der Tod Jesu
Mauch; Poplutz, Burkhart; Arcis-Vocalisten München, Barockorchester L'Arpa Festante, Gropper. German text only. Oehms OC 1809
Every so often the question arises of the way we might value lesser-known composers from the Baroque period had Bach never written any music. It arises again with this release. Carl Heinrich Graun's Der Tod Jesu has certain things in common with Bach's Passions: the arias are mostly in the dal segno form, chorales are sung as dramatic punctuation, and the soloists carry the bulk of the story and the expression of it. There is an especially inventive musical form for the penultimate number. A recitative for bass, wrenching in its chromaticism as the seraphim descend to find the tomb empty, is followed by choral lamentations (first in two parts, then three, then four) in the minor mode, interspersed with a bass ritornello that each time changes minor to assured major. If the idea of compositional genius is not quite struck, the music is still arresting. Certain musically pictorial devices — of the soul bowed to earth, of weeping, of prayers rising through the clouds — are done in a more obvious manner than Bach did them, and the way the music is built on sequences is also more obvious than it is in Bach. But everything is effective.
Conductor Thomas Gropper has a flexible way with accompanied recitative, and a lucky thing too as there is so much of it. He is a good partner for baritone Andreas Burkhart, who has a moment-to-moment response to the text. Burkhart also gets one of those triumphant D-Major pieces, like Handel's "The trumpet shall sound," which is a stretch for him but he rises to it. Soprano Monika Mauch does not have many colors in her voice, but she astutely uses ornamentation to hold our interest. For today's listeners her final solo has an undeniable, thought obviously entirely coincidental, resemblance to the final movement of Mozart's "Exsultate, jubilate." Tenor Georg Poplutz is sweet-voiced and offers rhythmic rigor along with excellent intonation. He takes the second soprano line in the score's one duet, developing a neat interplay with Mauch in a double cadenza. The chorus sings in an amiable, pretty manner, nothing more. The liner notes offer German words only, in archaic spellings. Ultimately, if Bach's music did not exist, Graun's Passion would surely be in the standard repertoire. His music bears exploration. Opera companies intent on thematic programming should note that he wrote operas on Iphigenia, Orpheus, Caesar and Cleopatra, Armida, and Semiramide.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN
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