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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst
Erquickendes Wunder der ewigen Gnade (TVWV 1:469) [9:58]
Jauchzet, frolocket, der Himmel ist offen (TVWV 1:953) [9:43]
Halt ein mit deinem Wetterstrahle (TVWV 1:715) [8:04]
Ist Widerwärtigkeit den Frommen eigen (TVWV 1:948) [11:16]
Liebe, die vom Himmel stammet TWV 1:1044 [8:30]
Erwacht zum Kriegen (TVWV 1:481) [7:42]
Bergen Barokk; Franz Vitzthum (counter-tenor); Bjarte Eike (Baroque violin); Hans Knut Sveen (harpsichord, organ); Marku Luolajan-Mikkola (Baroque cello)
rec. 6-9 November, 2006, Hoff kirke, Østre Toten Norway. DDD

Experience Classicsonline

This stylish and very satisfying CD shows clearly just how varied was Telemann's output. The six sacred cantatas which it contains are gentle, taut and somewhat intense. Yet the approach taken by Bergen Barokk with counter-tenor Franz Vitzthum reveals the confidence which clearly informed Telemann's writing. They are undemonstrative, subtle and sufficiently intimate as to convey their beauty by understatement. If this repertoire is new to you, this is a CD you should certainly look closely at.
It's the second CD in what Toccata says is the first projected complete series of all of Telemann's 72 Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst cantatas. In all Telemann wrote twenty such cycles. The Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst series was published in 1726; Telemann was settled in Hamburg; the form was relatively well established; the composer had two aims, it seems: certainly liturgical - both private as well as public - but also for performance purely for pleasure.
It's pleasure, pure unindebted pleasure, that this glorious music will provide. Shot through with tunefulness, each cantata also shines with adventurous and effective harmonies, with fetching counterpoint, and with attractive instrumental virtuosity.
Scored for voice, one obbligato instrument and basso continuo, each of these cantatas lasts in the region of ten minutes. They're in the form of two da capo arias with an intervening recitative. So nothing overtly rhetorical or bombastic. Nothing like the range of Bach's cantatas. Yet as full of life. And as aware of emotion as Bach's - almost. Listen to the second (vivace) aria, Hemmet die Bäche Der Stürzenden Tränen, of Halt ein mit deinem Wetterstrahle [tr.12], for instance. The violin chases the melody; Vitzthum (who never misses a beat) chases the implied notes of the counterpoint; and they both allow the rhythm to add to the impact.
Similarly with the dialogue between voice and strings in the first aria (unusually second - in this four-movement cantata), Durch Stillsein und Hoffen, of Ist Widerwärtigkeit den Frommen eigen [tr.14]. In other words, the performers are all contributing in their parallel ways to the musical and liturgical import of the work. Nor do they do this without great musicality: there is nothing here for effect. Given that Telemann's music by the time of the publication of the Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst cantatas had successfully blended Italian, French and German styles into a music that was singable and accentuated 'openness' and accessibility over virtuosity, to reach for the essence of the music - with such small forces - and still convey its beauty and trenchant 'message' is harder than it sounds. The performers on this CD have succeeded admirably: the balance between 'affect' and technique is as good as can be. The attention to detail, to the words and to the musical architecture holds our attention on a variety of levels from first to last.
It's tempting to think that these musicians have combined a similar love of poetry to that which Telemann possessed (indeed he also wrote poetry) with their slightly self-effacing way of performing; and that this blend is responsible for the integrated, communicative and highly idiomatic style which results. Lyricism is certainly an important component of the performance - and contributes to the pleasure which this music gives. For all his relatively recent arrival on the scene, the maturity and freshness of the singing of Franz Vitzthum has to be noted especially. It's a joint success, though, and one achieved by the obvious affinity which all the musicians share with one another as well as with Telemann's intentions.
The CD is closely recorded in an appropriately resonant acoustic. The liner notes contain a packed and pithy essay on the music and its context as well as the full texts, nicely annotated and referenced, in German and English. This series sets very high standards and can be recommended without hesitation for anyone wanting to see how successfully and persuasively the genius of Telemann turned to small-scale sacred music.
Mark Sealey

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