La Stagione Frankfurt with Michael Schneider have a good history
of inspiring, original and stimulating performances of music
from the High/Late Baroque period - particularly that of Telemann.
Here they are again with that composer's Trauermusic für
Kaiser Karl VII [TVWV 4:13], 'Funeral music on the death
of Emperor Charles VII'. The CD is part of CPO’s 'Musica sacra
Hamburgensis 1600-1800' series; it's a rarity which has much
to recommend it.
The emperor's death in 1745 was a significant event for (the
citizens of) Hamburg … he had offered protection against a number
of potential and actual enemies. Arrangements for formal and
elaborate ceremonies marking his death were expedited quickly.
So what we have on this CD is music originally written for a
specific occasion in the middle of the north German eighteenth
century. But its beauty, sobriety and delicate restraint can
speak to us now. Especially when performers as experienced and
insightful expose and embrace the idiom of Telemann so well.
The Hamburg City Council commissioned Telemann to write funeral
music to texts by Joachim Johann Zimmermann (1710-1767), who
had already proved himself with equivalents for the emperor's
own coronation and his predecessor's funeral. What we have here
is an amalgam of free poetry, Biblical material and hymns. It's
divided into two parts of roughly equal length - one to be performed
either side of a sermon. Its tone is as much about expressing
concern for an uncertain future as a panegyric on the dear departed.
Somehow Telemann conveys the anguish relating to the threat
which an uncertain future held as much as the grief at the emperor's
death. He dos this not by writing music that's tentative or
insipid. Instead this is achieved through using modulations
of key and trills, specific voice and instrument combinations
and musical phrasing that would perhaps indicate impatience
in other contexts. Here they are somewhat unsettling … the soprano
recitative, Du bleibst indessen [tr. 20], for instance.
The contradiction between words ("you are constant")
and melodic and textural wavering is an odd one; but it nevertheless
successfully adds to the unpredictability of the situation.
Several aspects of the music stand out: the use of a rather
prominent drum at key moments - recorded very forward; and some
striking chromatic passages - in the Dictum for chorus,
Meine Harfe ist [tr.13], for example. Instrumentation
is interesting: muted, shady and reserved; not at all grand
nor yet lugubrious. La Stagione Frankfurt respects and breathes
full life into this highly nuanced set of atmospheres and allusive
writing. They are aided by the variety of compositional forms
- arias of various types, chorales, recitatives and choral interpositions
- which Telemann uses. Rarely do such contrasts really call
for flourishes. When they do come - as in the short choral Dictum,
Ach daß müssen [tr 25] - Schneider and his forces afford
them all the more impact. Otherwise one is struck by the level,
even-tempered, though no less vigorous and definite pace and
'attack' delivered by soloists, choir and instrumentalists.
The mildness and sense of having all expression, developmental
lines and partnerships between text and music well within these
musicians' grasp is matched by a quiet and purposeful energy
throughout this hour long performance. There are single memorable
moments - the final chorus, O Du Volk [tr. 29],
for instance. But one is left with a more general feeling of
music written for an occasion about which we cannot possibly
have the strength of sentiment that contemporaries evidently
did. Yet this touches us with its graceful observance of the
complex public feelings and slightly suppressed hope for the
future. This, by its very nature is more generalised, in music
that's thoughtful, yet almost extrovert.
The booklet that comes with the CD contains much useful background
information, the text in German and English, and details of
the performers - though it is set in an almost impossibly small
font size. The acoustic is clear and aids our understanding
of the equally clean and unruffled articulation of the text
by the eight soloists of La Stagione Frankfurt.
Each issue in the series, 'Musica sacra Hamburgensis 1600-1800',
has been worth a close look. Ich hoffete aufs Licht is
no exception. Schneider and his group make music with real style;
yet never overstate their case. A rarely-heard work from Telemann's
canon, of which there is no other recording available, this
may not be ground-breaking Baroque at its unique best. Even
so, it has a lot going for it.