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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger



Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
The Messiah, for chorus and orchestra TWV 6:4 (circa.1750s) [32:54]: Part 1 TWV 6:4a [13:09]; Part 2 TWV 6:4b [19:45]
Partie, in A minor for 2 recorders, 2 oboes, 2 violins and basso continuo (bassoon, cello, violone, harpsichord) TWV 44:42 [6:47]
Sonata, in F major for 2 violins, 2 violas, and basso continuo (cello, violone, organ) TWV 44:21 [8:40]
Concerto, in E flat major for strings (2 violins, viola) and basso continuo (bassoon, cello, violone, harpsichord) TWV 43:Es 1 [9:06]
Veronika Winter (soprano)
Marion Eckstein (contralto)
Jan Kobow (tenor)
Klaus Mertens (bass)
Telemannisches Collegium Michaelstein/Ludger Remy
Rec. Blankenburg am Harz, Bartholomauskirche, Sept. 16-19, 2001, Jan. 25, 2002. DDD
CPO 999 847-2 [57:36]


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The main work on this Telemann release, the oratorio Messiah, shares the same name and subject as Handel’s crowning masterpiece but is very different in quality and effect. Based on a script that Charles Jennens had prepared from the scriptures, Handel wrote his oratorio Messiah in 1742 and the work has retained its supreme popularity for over 250 years whilst this Telemann work has remained virtually unknown and is receiving on this CPO release its first commercial recording. Telemann’s Messiah was composed in the 1750s which was some years later than his contemporary and fellow-countryman’s work. It uses texts from the first and tenth cantos of Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock’s epic poem ‘Messiah’.

Handel’s Messiah is a massive and powerful work often performed with a large chorus and orchestra with brilliant writing for the chorus and the soloists and expressive recitatives. By contrast Telemann’s oratorio calls for lighter forces and has no traditional arias and recitatives.

There is sometimes good reason why a work from an esteemed composer who is increasingly popular on record has remained in such obscurity and with Telemann’s Messiah the evidence points to his frequent lapses of distinction and a watering down of ideas most likely owing to his compositional alacrity and prolific facility. I found the work, although very well performed by all concerned, principally lacking in positive impact and dramatic action, having little imagination with even less memorability and rather disappointing overall. At just over thirty minutes duration the score could not be considered as particularly lengthy, yet on each of the four occasions that I listened to the recording my concentration soon began to wander. In spite of valiant attempts by the soloists I found the whole affair rather soporific.

It is a shame that I was not able to hear this impeccable German quartet of soloists in better quality repertoire. The soprano Veronika Winter and the tenor Jan Kobow are both very fine performers and although I was hearing them for the first time, on this evidence, the bass Klaus Mertens and contralto Marion Eckstein are singers out of the top-drawer.

Klaus Mertens has a strikingly expressive and wonderfully rich bass, heard to great effect in In vain Satan rose up (track 2) and in God himself come down from heaven (track 6), Telemann instructs ‘magnificently’ and Mertens has no difficulty providing it. In But, o deed known only to God in his omnipresence (track 4) the contralto Marion Eckstein is in great voice, exquisitely offering a refinement of vocal delivery and admirable articulation.

Eminent conductor Ludger Remy is most experienced in this late-baroque repertoire and has recorded several Telemann discs of sacred choral works for the CPO label. One cannot fail to be impressed by Remy and his excellent period instrument specialists Telemannisches Collegium Michaelstein. Telemann for his Messiah has reduced down his instrumental and vocal tools to a minimum and Remy and this ensemble provide a luminous interdependence between each of the instrumental voices.

I always feel that the best of Telemann is heard in his chamber compositions. His fertility extended across a wide range of instrumental combinations and the three short works selected are good examples of his expertise in this intimate medium.

Unfortunately the generally fine performances are marred owing to the first and third slow movements of the Partie in A minor, where some strange sounds from the flutes and oboes made me cringe; surely instruments cannot sound this bad. I am puzzled why sounds as poor as these weren’t detected at the recording session and re-taken or maybe there was a technical fault with the recording equipment. It’s all very odd!

The sound quality of The Messiah is excellent but not so with regard to the instrumental works where the sound blurs noticeably at the edges. The booklet notes are informative but rather technical and not always easy to read, maybe something has been lost in the translation!

Another recording from CPO as part of their acclaimed cycle of Telemann’s sacred choral works but a release which is best avoided. The Messiah does not show Telemann at his best and there are some strange sounds on one of the instrumental works.

Michael Cookson



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