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Singe-, Spiel- und Generalbass-Übungen (1733) TWV 25:39-85
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Neues; Geld; Zufriedenheit; Seltenes Glück; Splitter-Richter; Getrost im Leiden; Redlichkeit; Wechsel; Ueber das niedersächsische Versapen; Die durstige Natur; Die Welt, das Vaterland; Die Frau; Die vergesserne Phillis;  Der Spiegel; Mutter-Söhne; Verwunderer; Sein Diener!; Heyraht; Gemüts=Ruhe; Die Jugend; Ohnesorge; Alterthum des Geschlechts; Beglückte Niedrichkeit; Die Einsamkeit; Sanfter Schlaf; Falschheit; Geizhals; Pastorell; Wind; Intressirte Heyraht; An den Tadler; Sommer-Lust; Glück; Mittel-Stand; Sein eigner Herr; Mässigkeit; Geputzte Frau; Beherzter Freyer; Toback; Verläumder; Freundschaft; Eine Durstige; HeuchlerM Grossthuer; Greiser Trinker; Andrer Last unsre Lust; Jeder sein eigner Richter
Klaus Mertens (baritone), Ludger Rémy (harpsichord)
rec. Deutschlandfunk, Sendesaal des Funkhauses Köln, 27-30 April 2004. DDD
CPO 777 045-2 [70:14]

These "arias", as the composer entitled them, were published at weekly intervals in 1733 and 1734, equipped with figuring and instructions pertaining to thorough-bass playing. They were to be so easy that he who was inexperienced in music, after he had heard them a few times, would be able to repeat them in song even without instrumental accompaniment. They would also be able to be played on the harpsichord or other instruments without singing.

This and a lot more interesting information can be found in Ralph-Jürgen Reipsch's well-written liner notes for this fascinating issue, which is a first complete recording. Simple they may be, structurally - many of them are strophic - and the texts are no literary masterpieces, but within this framework it is remarkable how varied and inventive Telemann is. 47 songs in 70 minutes means that most of them are quite short. In fact the longest, Die Einsamkeit (track 24), plays for 3:45 and there is a handful of songs under one minute long. They deal with everyday life, often with a humoristic slant and some of them are also moral lectures. Track 39, which sticks out for several reasons, is a song of praise to tobacco, saying:

            In all lexica, in all dictionaries,
            There's no finer word
            Than tobacco.
            This word raises my spirits,
            This word shortens for me with its long goodness
            As many a dear night as many a dear day.

This is the "aria" in a tripartite structure A-B-A, where the B-section is a recitative philosophizing on the fact that "tobacco" rightly is a noun of male gender. After this expounding the "aria" is reprised, making this song a miniature cantata. Other songs are elegiac, for example Der Einsamkeit already mentioned, while many also are lively, some of them built on dances. As so often with collections of this kind it is best heard in small doses, say five or six at a time, but there was a certain fascination in hearing the whole disc in one sitting, which I did after first having dipped into some of the songs to get an idea of what they were like.

Klaus Mertens has the right voice for these songs. Known for long as a baroque specialist he is also well versed in lieder-singing and here we get the best of both worlds. In the booklet he is described as a bass-baritone, but to my ears it is more a high light baritone, nimble, with an easy trill and also a lower range that isn't exactly powerful but is sonorous enough. He has a keen eye for the texts and gives lively interpretations of the humorous songs. His half voice is employed with great sensitivity for the more elegiac songs. His word-pointing can be a mite over-emphatic at times: track 26 is one example. He also embellishes many of the songs quite elaborately according to baroque practice. Sometimes I felt that he over-did it, but probably Telemann would have expected him to do so, even though the "inexperienced in music" who were a target group for the songs, would hardly have that capacity. Klaus Mertens does it with his customary elegance and the experienced Ludger Rémy provides discreet accompaniments.

Recorded in the Radio House in Cologne the sound is all one could have wished. The booklet prints the song texts as well as English translations by Susan Marie Praeder.

Baroque enthusiasts shouldn't hesitate but general listeners with a taste for good melodic songs should also give it a try.

Göran Forsling

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