This is a most enterprising release which assembles
three discs of Telemann cantatas, each desirable in their own right,
into one attractive box.
Telemann wrote a stupendous number of cantatas, many
more than Bach, including over a thousand that belong to a series of
twelve complete annual cycles for the church's year. The items on this
set span Telemann's composing career from his student days right through
to his old age.
The first disk presents three cantatas from Telemann's
annual cycles. He composed these cycles in national styles so that there
were French years and Italian years. The first and last cantatas on
the disk are from the 1720/21 cycle in the Italian manner, the second
cantata is from the 1714/15 cycle in the French manner. These are large
scale pieces, combining choruses, arias, recitative and chorales.
'Lobet den Herrn, alle seine Heerscharen', scored for
trumpets, timpani and strings, is a New Year's day cantata and opens
in a suitably festive manner with a chorus in which the trumpets are
prominent. The chorus sing only in the opening and closing movements
of the work, the remainder being arias and recitative. The trumpets
are prominent throughout and the soprano's aria 'Gott is ein treuer
Hüter' with its lovely string accompaniment is a moment of repose,
beautifully sung by Dorothee Fries. A striking feature of the last movement
is the way that the trumpets constantly interrupt the final chorale.
'Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten', scored
for oboes, bassoon and strings, is a cantata for the 4th
Sunday in Lent (Laetare Sunday). The choral contribution to this cantata
is greater, the arias being linked by short chorales. Written in Telemann's
French style, it is richly scored, often using an independent bassoon
part, and stylishly played by the Hannoversche Hofkapelle. It is a more
reflective cantata than the previous one and concludes with a rare ensemble
for the four soloists which leads into a strong fugue-like choral movement.
‘Der Tod is verschlungen in den Sieg’, scored for trumpets,
timpani and strings, is a cantata for Easter Day. The chorus are again
restricted to the opening and closing movements, but opening chorus
is quite substantial and Telemann illuminates the words with a number
of imaginative touches. Another highlight is the tenor/bass Hallelujah
duet, resoundingly sung by Andreas Post (Tenor) and Albrecht Pöhl
(Bass). The final aria, for the Alto soloist, is one which finds Telemann
writing with greater emotional depth and Mechtild Georg responds movingly.
Telemann's more virtuoso passages sometimes find the
soloists a little lacking, but they are never less than adequate and
Dorothee Fries's solo in the first cantata is beautifully sung. Both
the soloists and the bright toned choir are fully responsive to the
words and their diction is good. Telemann gives the choir relatively
limited opportunities, nothing on the scale of some of Bach's cantatas,
but the choir makes the most of what they are given. All three cantatas
find Telemann being very inventive with the orchestration and the Hannoversche
Hofkapelle and the Trompeten-Consort "Friedemann Immer" play very stylishly,
relishing the solo opportunities. The trumpets, playing Telemann's high
trumpet parts, are particularly good. Ulrich Stötzel generally
favours brisk tempi but nothing feels rushed and the cantatas are beautifully
The same choir, orchestra and conductor, appear on
the second disk which contains a single cantata. Coming from the end
of Telemann's life, this work was written to celebrate the end of the
Seven Year's war and was performed by the schools of Hamburg and Altona.
The cantata is in two parts, one performed before a solemn speech and
the other performed after the speech. It is written for 5 soloists,
5-part choir and a substantial orchestra (flutes, oboes, bassoon, trumpets,
horns, timpani and strings.)
The choir's contribution is restricted to the choruses
which open and close each part. A substantial chorus of praise closes
part 1 with its enjoyable dance rhythm and the chorus reoccurs in shortened
form at the opening of part 2. A rather neat piece of linking by Telemann.
Between these choruses, the bulk of the cantata consists of a sequence
of arias and recitatives. There is a considerable amount of text to
get through, so the recitatives are quite lengthy. Around 15 minutes
of recitative in a performance lasting just over 50 minutes. None of
the recitative really takes off, the soloists never manage to make the
words come alive and this makes the cantata feel rather undramatic and
stilted. A libretto which includes bangs, bombs and sulphurous steam
surely demands a performance far less sedate than this one.
It is perhaps unfortunate that the first two arias
are allocated to the two Basses, Raimund Nolte and Achim Rück.
Neither sounds completely comfortable with their material and Raimund
Nolte has a rather tight tone which is not ideal for music of this period.
It is a relief when the Soprano, Konstanze Maxsein, sings her first
aria, a charming number in a dance rhythm. In fact Konstanze Maxsein's
two contributions are some of the most attractive sections of the work.
As usual with Telemann the piece is very strikingly orchestrated, some
of the ritornelli in the arias are very attractive and beautifully played
by the Hannoversche Hofkapelle and the Trompeten-Consort "Friedemann
Speeds are on the whole rather sedate and careful,
the whole performance sounds careful, as if the performers were still
getting used to their unfamiliar music. There were times during the
performance when I did wonder whether Telemann was merely coasting through
some of the material. There are some interesting things here, but the
cantata seems to amount to rather less than the sum of its parts, at
least in this performance.
The third disk opens with a Missa Brevis for solo and
orchestra, dating from Telemann's student years. It is a Lutheran mass,
setting only the Kyrie and the Gloria with a simple string accompaniment.
Its virtues are its simplicity and directness, though it has few truly
memorable moments. The soloist, counter-tenor David Cordier, sings it
responsively and blends well with the accompanists but I found his voice
a little soft-edged, particularly in the lower register. I would have
liked a voice with rather more focus.
The second work on the disk dates from Telemann’s stay
in Paris in the 1730 and was effectively a present for his hosts, a
Grand Motet written in the French style. It is a striking work in the
grand French manner, Telemann flattering his hosts with his fine imitation
of the French style. It is given a lively, idiomatic performance here
and it comes over very well indeed. The three choruses are more substantial
than many of the choral contributions on this disk, and the Rheinische
Kantorei sing the music with focus and conviction. The soloists. Barbara
Schlick and Martina Lins (Sopranos), Silke Weisheit (Alto), Chrisoph
Prégardien (Tenor), Stephen Varcoe and Hans-Georg Wimmer (Basses)
and Das Keine Konzert under Hermann Max, perform the cantata stylishly
striking a nice balance between Telemann’s German origins and his assumption
of the French style. This is definitely one of the highlights of the
The final work is a chamber cantata for soprano and
baritone soloists and an orchestra of recorders, oboes, bassoon and
strings. It sets a spring song by the Hamburg poet Barthold Heinrich
Brockes. Telemann's Brockes Passion had been performed in Hamburg in
1718 and this cantata was performed under the composer’s direction at
Brockes's home in 1720. The text is full of descriptive detail and Telemann
responds to this with similarly descriptive music of a type familiar
from Haydn's Creation. Barbara Schlick and Stephen Varcoe are responsive
to both text and music. Barbara Schlick's fragile seeming voice is very
apt for this chamber cantata and her aria about the Nightingale, with
suitably illustrative recorder obbligato, is a delight. Not every moment
in this cantata is Telemann on top form, Stephen Varcoe does wonders
with his long descriptive passages, you rather wish they were a little
shorter. But that is a minor complaint, this fine performance of a charming
work nicely rounds off a memorable disk.
This is a highly recommendable release. The first and
last disks in the set were well though of by Gramophone on their initial
release and Brilliant are to be commended for assembling such a rich
and attractive survey of Telemann's cantatas. Given his prodigious output,
inevitably the quality of his works can be variable but nearly everything
here is attractive and makes interesting listening. The booklet leaves
something to be desired. There is no introductory essay and though the
insert prints the complete cantata texts along with their explanatory
superscriptions, this is all in German with no translations.