Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Die Tageszeiten TVWV 20:39 [56:20]
Nun danket alle Gott TVWV 1:1166 [9:41]
Monika Mauch (soprano); Gerhild Romberger (alto); Hans Jörg Mammel (tenor); Gotthold Schwarz (bass); Basler Madrigalisten; L'arpa festante/Fritz Näf
rec. 10-12 May, 2009, Reformierte Kirche, Arlesheim, Germany. DDD
CARUS 83.439 [66:24]

To listen to the opening of Telemann's Die Tageszeiten (Times of Day) is to be thrust into a world as apparently alien to its times as that at the opening of Haydn's Seasons. Threatening, full of unusual orchestral colour, the 'Symphony' - an overture lasting longer - over seven minutes - than any other of the numbers in the work - sets the scene (Dawn) for something you'd be hard put to attribute to Telemann.

The sheer volume of his output (along with that of Liszt) is often cited. Alongside this should go its variety. Admittedly a late work (the first performance of Die Tageszeiten was in 1757), it has passages which could certainly be taken for Vivaldi, Mozart or even early Beethoven. Die Tageszeiten is actually four solo cantatas with concluding choruses; each is sung by a different voice… Morning soprano, Noon alto, Evening tenor and Night bass. Similarly, each cantata has corresponding orchestral colour… the addition of a trumpet, viola da gamba, flutes and oboes and bassoon respectively.

None of this is in any way contrived, fey or self-conscious. Such are Telemann's powers of capitalising on his inspiration that the whole has a quality of inevitability. This is aided by a length for each cantata (roughly ten minutes) that makes it less like a tone poem; more compact and economical settings - of nature poetry, by Brockes and Klopstock. The actual libretto is by Friedrich Wilhelm Zachariae, 1726-1777. One feels that Telemann is urging us to understand his reactions to the way the sun progresses across the sky, rather than providing an extra audience for the poetry. Näf is well in tune with that approach. There is a withdrawn feel to the music-making. Though nothing is held back.

Nun danket alle Gott is a much earlier sacred work to entirely Biblical texts (Ecclesiastics). Despite not drawing on otherwise adapted verse, Telemann makes of this a special work with its own character; indeed, each of the four movements (two choral, a duet and an aria) has its own appeal and flavour.

Were the performers merely 'adequate' for the music, this would be an intriguing release. But they have an attack, a briskness and a sensitivity that add immense value to our appreciation of these interesting works. Their tempi truly do support the feeling of the passing day. And not in any gauche way. The singers are fully conversant with the idiom in general, and with Telemann's implementation in particular. Mammel's tenor should be singled out as particularly persuasive. Though the other singers and instrumentalists under Fritz Näf are entirely convincing and offer much on repeated listening: they somehow confer a naturalness and relaxed familiarity, without sacrificing any of the novelty (in the best sense of the word) of Telemann's insight into how music, particularly voice and orchestra, can be made to serve a defined, precise yet very open idea - something we all experience: the passage of each day.

There is only one other recording in the current catalogue. And it's of the Tageszeiten only, so is a shorter CD. It's by soloists and the Freiburg Collegium Musicum under Wolfgang Schäfer on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (77422). This excellently-recorded and presented Carus release - which comes with useful notes and the texts in German and English - is so lively, is the fruit of such a distinctive conception, and is bursting with sufficient expressive force that it must take its place as a very welcome addition - not only to the work of elevating Telemann's stature, but also as providing a new, fresh and satisfying musical experience.

Mark Sealey