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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger


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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767)
Passions Oratorium - Das selige Erwägen des bittern Leiden und Sterbens Jesu Christi

Die Andacht (devotion), Der Glaube (faith), Zion - Barbara Locher (soprano)
Die Andacht (devotion) - Zeger Vandersteene (tenor)
Petrus - Stefan Dörr (tenor)
Jesus - Berthold Possemeyer (baritone)
Caiaphas - Jesus-Rene Schmidt (baritone)
Freiburger Vokalensemble
L'Arpa Festante München/Wolfgang Schäfer
Licensed from Bayer Records
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99521 [60.52, 50.52]
In 1721 Telemann, possibly with the help of his friend the poet Brockes, took up his appointment in the post of Musical Director of the five major churches in Hamburg, responsible for overseeing much of the city's music. The following year Telemann revised his setting of Brockes' Passion, originally dating from 1716. This was a Passion Oratorio, written for concert performance rather than church use. The story is narrated by the Evangelist but he used a poetic paraphrase by Brockes rather than the gospel text. The arias are sung by a mixture of allegorical figures and the characters from the story. Jesus even gets a duet with his mother.

Also in 1722, Telemann wrote his own words for another Passion Oratorio, 'Das selige Erwägen des bittern Leidens und Sterbens Jesu Christi'. This became very popular and received concert performances in Hamburg nearly every year from 1728 to the early 19th century. Telemann's text dispenses with an Evangelist altogether. His soloists include Jesus, Caiaphas and Peter alongside the allegorical figures of Der Glaube (Faith), Die Andacht (Devotion) and Zion. The narration is carried forward in recitatives sung by all of these.

Telemann's music is melodic and the arias are in general quite short. This is a concert work, not a long meditative religious devotion. It is quite short, lasting under two hours (Handel's setting of the Brockes Passion lasts some 30 minutes longer).

Devotionís first aria, a charmingly tuneful number with flutes, is repeated after a recitative and choral, but with slightly different words (a device that Handel uses for Jesus's first aria in his Brockes Passion). And Petrus's first aria, the A section of which is repeated for a second time after a short recitative, is a rather bravura number sung by Stefan Dörr with rather more bravura than accuracy though he spits out the consonants superbly,

The orchestra includes flutes, chalumeaux, horns and bassoons. Telemann uses them all to great effect in the arias. The orchestration is one of the delights of this work. Each aria seems to have its own particular timbre whether it is flutes and piccolos (Devotion's 'Sollt ich deiner wohl vergessen'), a solo bassoon (Devotion's 'Denke nach'), solo violins (Devotion's 'Ihr blut'gen Schweissrubinen'), horns in Jesus's 'Wenn die Gerichtsopsaune' and the wonderfully melancholy combination of low strings and independent bassoon in Petrus's last aria ("Ach ach, was hab ich'). Telemann's light, imaginative orchestral touch along with his frequent use of dance rhythms make this a most attractive work. Its popularity is understandable.

The role of Devotion is shared between tenor Zeger Vandersteene and soprano Barbara Locher. Barbara Locher also sings the arias for Zion and Faith. Both the singers are good, though in the more virtuoso passages Vendeersteene makes up in swagger what he lacks in style. This tendency to bluster is also a fault of Johan-Rene Schmidt, singing Caiaphas, though he has a beautifully rich voice. Zion gets one of the most virtuoso arias in the oratorio, 'Erstaunet', just after Jesus's death and Barbara Locher makes the most of her opportunity. As Jesus, Berthold Possemeyer gets rather more to do than in Bach's Passions. Here he has five arias and when he is being thoughtful and melancholy, Possemeyer makes a fine Jesus. Unfortunately his is not as convincing in the more virtuoso passages, but these are relatively rare.

The choir has only chorales to sing, there are no choruses or turbae. There are plenty of chorales, a total of eleven including three versions of the Passion Chorale. The choir, the Freiburger Vokalensemble, sing them with style and confidence.

The orchestra, L'Arpa Festante München, playing on original instruments, relish all of Telemann's varied orchestration and the wind players in particular contribute some fine solos. Conductor Wolfgang Schäfer generally paces the music well, though there were occasional moments where things seem to plod a little. The recording has significant gaps after each of the chorales, which also slows things up.

This seems to be the only recording of Telemann's 'Passion Oratorio' in the catalogue at the moment. Brilliant Classics are to be congratulated yet again for their ongoing commitment to making Telemann's music available. This is an entirely convincing performance and the orchestra, in particular, contribute some beautifully stylish playing. If the soloists are not all quite perfect, they are all nevertheless more than capable. The resulting performance is never less than adequate and frequently far more than adequate.

There is no libretto, only a comprehensive track listing. The story is self explanatory enough and does not really need a detailed translation. The diction of the cast is excellent so it is perfectly possible to follow the recitative if your German is up to it.

Robert Hugill

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