Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Funeral Music for Emperor Karl VII - Ich hoffete aufs Licht [TVWV 4:13] (1745)
Part 1 [29:24]
Part 2 [33:23]
La Stagione Frankfurt/Michael Schneider
rec. 20 March 2010, Konzerthalle Georg Philipp Telemann, Magdeburg, Germany. DDD
CPO 777 6032 [62:53]

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.

Mark Sealey

A far better than merely competent performance.