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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Passion Cantatas

Der am Ölberg zagende Jesus, TVWV 1:364 [16:18]
Was gibst du denn, o meine seele, TVWV 1:1510 [11:06]
Jesus liegt in letzten Zügen
, TVWV 1:983 [15:55]
Ich will den Kreuzweg gerne gehen
, TVWV 1:884 [14:16]
Ach Herr! Lehr uns Bedenken wohl
, TVWV 1:24 [11:55]
Klaus Mertens (bass-baritone)
Accademia Daniel/Shalev Ad-El
rec. 17 March 2006 Kirche Leipzig-Gundorf, Germany; 7-9 June 2007 Kirche Polditz, Germany DDD
CPO 777 299-2 [69:53]
Experience Classicsonline

Here is a splendidly sonorous and sensitively performed CD of five sacred cantatas by the extremely prolific Telemann. Amongst the musical attributes which the composer describes in his application in 1712 for the post of Kapellmeister at Frankfurt is his own singing voice…"zwischen Tenor und Baß" (between tenor and bass) - or baritone. Taken together with at least one letter to city authorities complaining that because of an absence of singers, Telemann had to 'hire [him]self', it seems likely that he wrote this music at least partly with himself in mind. Indeed, an unusually large proportion of the 1,400 cantatas which Telemann wrote did include a part for such a voice (range, timbre and delivery style, as far as we can tell) as Telemann's.

A lot is resting on Klaus Mertens shoulders in these performances, then. He has worked, of course, with many 'early music' specialists…Ton Koopman (the staple baritone on the latter's superb Bach cantata series) and Frans Brüggen, Nicholas McGegan, Philippe Herreweghe, René Jacobs, Sigiswald Kuijken, Gustav Leonhardt and Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

Here he is in fine form. His voice has a solidity and generosity slightly redolent of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's. This results in an authority in the way that each piece is structured and articulated. Listen, for example, to the opening of 'Mein liebster Heiland' [tr.15] in Jesus liegt in letzten Zügen. Absent are any notions of rushing, self-indulgent pondering, speculating, wavering - uncertainties about the place of the words in the context of the cantata itself, and its meaning within the wider liturgical milieu. But equally important is the complete absence in Mertens' approach of woodenness, rigidity or inflexibility. Particularly impressive is the extent to which Martens infuses his solos with such drama… Telemann, after all, was also an opera composer. But the drama here is only that inherent in the Passion itself; the Passion is never 'used' as a vehicle for other ideas.

His is a singing style that inspires confidence while knowing that we are also hearing singing full of the Affekt that was so important to Baroque composers. We are moved, emotionally compelled and taken with the sentiment of the music, which is, after all, concerned with Christ's death. But our feelings change in accordance with the bar to bar, almost - certainly phrase to phrase - alternations of circumstance …regret, hope, anger, resignation as the Passion story is told. Mertens avoids any hint of perfunctoriness. Despite the fact that the story is so familiar and the resonances or sympathies which Telemann intended to evoke so huge, Mertens sets them out with an attention and freshness that are somehow very genuine and trusted. His exposition of the opening first number, 'Ich will den Kreuzweg gerne gehen' [tr.18], in Ich will den Kreuzweg gerne gehen itself is poignant in the extreme. But because Mertens sings from within the circumstances of this affirmation - not just because we know what poignancy means.

The Accademia Daniel under Shalev Ad-El play their period instruments with support where that is all that Martens needs and with vigour and spirit in passages requiring greater presence. The tendency, given the theme, is for sombre and melancholy. Yet nowhere is the playing lugubrious or maudlin. A wonderful balance, which would seem to come from great familiarity with the music. The scoring is necessarily spare and understated. At most Accademia Daniel comprises a dozen players. But their sound is focused, tender and expressive. Such numbers as 'Wie der Blumen' [tr.25] in Ach Herr! Lehr uns Bedenken wohl show the touching and very real empathy between Martens and the Accademia.

The liner notes have an interesting set of essays on the music's background, artists' biographies and texts in German and English. The recording is warm and the acoustic appropriately gentle. This is music that must be listened to closely, not overheard. If that's how you approach it, you'll be amply repaid. No other available recordings of these works exists. If they did, they'd have to have some pretty strong performances to have the advantage over this energetic yet unselfconscious and beautiful cpo release.

Mark Sealey



 


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