Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681–1767)
Matthäus Passion (1730) [117:34]
Martin Klietmann, Harumichi Fuijwara (tenor)
Berthold Brandstetter (baritone)
Andreas Lebeda, Friedrich Ofner (bass)
Gertraud Wurzinger, Christine Füssl (soprano)
Collegium Vocale der Schlägler Musikseminare; Barockorchester München/Rupert Gottfried Frieberger
rec. Musikzentrum St Norbert, Schlägl, Oberöstereich 1985?. ADD.
CHRISTOPHORUS CHE 0150-2 [64:57 + 52:37]

One of music's most prolific composers, Telemann wrote no fewer than 46 passions. That according to the Gospel of Matthew written in 1730 during his time in Hamburg is generally regarded as the most 'fetching', profound, the most beautiful. Its choruses and arias have frequent passages of real grace and originality. This recording on Christophorus has more good points than it does drawbacks.

In the first place, the Collegium Vocale der Schlägler Musikseminare and Barockorchester München under Rupert Gottfried Frieberger are at home with the idiom and well able to convey the variety of emotions with which Telemann infused the text. It's a gentle Passion. Certainly much less demonstrative than J.S. Bach's much better known version from about the same time. There is loss, sadness and resignation in the tonal centres of Telemann's arias, choruses and recitatives. This is reinforced by a sense of great simplicity achieved by two-voice choral movements with octave doubling.

This transparency is particularly striking when Telemann's involvement in opera and significantly more dramatic writing is taken into account. Even the moments of tension and decisive climacterics sound restrained, held back, understated even. This is deliberate and intentional on Telemann's part. The players on this two-CD set respect such subtlety entirely; their cool and controlled approach add to our appreciation of the work … almost as monochrome treatment of scenes with a single outstanding event enhances their impact by concentrating our attention to the substance over the context.

At the same time this Matthäus Passion is comparatively unrestrained where the moments of joy and celebration are concerned … at the resurrection, the Frohlocket aria, [CD.2. tr.31], for example. These serve, too, to throw the expression of the rest of the work into more poignant relief.

The instrumental soloists are generally on target. The ensemble work is convincing. It quietly demands our attention - particularly the woodwind, special parts for which indicate that opportunities were found for contemporary flute and oboe virtuosi in Telemann's Hamburg circle.

Not all the soloists, though, are entirely up to snuff, unfortunately, with more than a hint here and there of unintentional vibrato … Gertraud Wurzinger in Ach Heiland [CD.1 tr.13], for example, is decidedly weak and wobbly. A few numbers later in her solo aria, Bis in den Tod [CD.1. tr.16], the same singer is a touch flat. Then the oboist at the start of Was ist das Schmeicheln [CD.1. tr.21] trips a couple of times - but barely noticeably. In the main, the soloists use just the right amount of expression with a convincing technique.

It's a huge plus that the performers conceive, raise and maintain a consistently lively and appropriately-directed dedication to the musical lines, architecture and textures that are required by Telemann. This, and Frieberger's imaginative, consistent and engaging tempi hold the interpretation together, which goes a long way towards compensating for its shortfalls.

The notes and text (in German) that come with this CD are minimal to say the least. The acoustic is dry and somewhat unresponsive. Given the intimate atmosphere for which There is another recording of the 1730 Matthäus Passion: from seven years later (1992) under Kurt Redel with Sena Jurinac and Theo Altmeyer among the soloists with the Lucerne Festival Chorus and Swiss Festival Orchestra on Philips 432500. The current recording must be regarded in many ways as equally mixed. If you haven't got this work and want to give it a try, don't let its faults stand in your way, though. It's an intriguing composition; Frieberger and his forces still make it very appealing.

Mark Sealey

A creditable, persuasive yet less than perfect recording of Telemann's 1730 Matthew Passion.… see Full Review