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GRAMOPHONE (December / 2017)
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Reviewer: David Vickers

An oratorio by Carl Heinrich Graun on a Christmas subject is preserved in an anonymous manuscript copy in the Library of Congress. Its date and origins are uncertain, but perhaps it originated during his early career at the court of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, where he worked from 1725 until 1735 (before he became Frederick the Great’s favourite opera composer in Berlin). Thomas Gropper conducts a disciplined reading by Munich’s well-drilled semi-professional choir ArcisVocalisten and L’Arpa Festante. Chorale harmonisations tend to be literal and unexceptional, and the centrepiece of the oratorio is an uncomplicated setting of the famous chorale ‘Wie soll ich dich empfangen’; by the end of its seventh verse one cannot help yearning for something more like Bach’s extraordinary treatments of the same tune. 

However, Graun’s finely crafted arias are performed by accomplished soloists. Georg Poplutz sings with stylishness and sincerity (albeit occasionally a little strain): ‘Erfülle mich, du holdes Wesen’ has the distinctive colour of two bassoons, and there is a fivestring violoncello piccolo doubling the tenor voice throughout ‘Ew’ger Sohn, erhaltner Segen’. Raimund Nolte’s searing ‘Abgrund krache, Tod erzittre’ conjures pseudo-operatic turbulence, whereas there is serene pastoral delicacy in Monika Mauch’s ‘Zeit und Stunde sind erfüllt’ (featuring attractive concertante flutes). Mauch and Marion Eckstein combine gorgeously in the duet ‘Herr, im Frieden will ich sterben’ (featuring a gentle pair of horns) – moments like this make it easy to admire Graun’s masterful utilisation of varied instrumentation and melodicism. Oehms’ omission of the libretto (let alone an English translation) is unhelpful.


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