Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767)
Der Tag des Gerichts (TWV 6,8)
Siri Karoline Thornhill (Erzengel, Glaube, Religion, 3. Seliger) (soprano), Susanne Krumbiegel (Andacht, Glaube, 2. Seliger, Vernunft) (contralto), Tobias Hunger (1. Seliger, Spötter, Unglaube) (tenor), Gotthold Schwarz (Andacht, Jesus, Johannes, Unglaube) (bass)
Bach Consort Leipzig/Gotthold Schwarz
rec. 21-23 November 2009, Schlosskirche Torgau, Germany. DDD
Texts, no translations
RONDEAU ROP6036 [73:17]

Telemann was one of Germany's most famous and most prolific composers. Until the very end of his life he was productive and even innovative. Der Tag des Gerichts bears witness to that. It was to be performed in March 1762 when Telemann had just turned 82. He complained about his failing eyesight, but his energy to compose had not left him. The work would be performed at the new concert hall auf dem Kamp which opened in 1761 and which was a great innovation in that it could be heated. Telemann immediately saw all sorts of opportunities for performances of his music. Der Tag des Gerichts shows that he was still as creative as ever.

The text of this Singgedicht was written by the poet, philosopher and theologian Christian Wilhelm Alers, and shows the influence of one of Germany's most famous poets, Friedrich Gottlob Klopstock. Its subject is the Last Judgement which is presented in four tableaus, called Betrachtungen, literally "observations", but probably more appropriately translated as "contemplations". In the first the whole idea of a last judgement is ridiculed by Unglaube (Disbelief) and Spötter (Mocker) who are contradicted by Vernunft (Reason). He emphasizes the reality of the Last Judgement which is then confirmed by Religion. This part ends with a chorus of the Gläubigen (the Faithful), who praise God's judgement to come.

The second part begins with a chorus announcing the coming of Jesus. Then follows an accompanied recitative in which Andacht (Devotion) describes the phenomena which attend his coming, like thunder and lightning, tempest and a raging sea. Glaube (Faith) then celebrates the rise of the faithful from these terrible circumstances and their entry into heaven. The third part describes Jesus' judgement. The heart is an aria by Jesus, 'Seid mir gesegnet, ihr Gerechten' (Be blessed, ye righteous) which is followed by a chorus of the Faithful, in the form of a chorale. Then we hear a recitative by Disbelief expressing fear of Jesus' condemnation which is followed by a chorus of Laster (Vices) asking the mountains to cover them. This part ends with Jesus' condemnation of the wicked.

The fourth part is a thanksgiving for the blessing of the righteous and their life with Jesus in heaven. It begins with a chorus of the Engel (Angels) and die Auserwählten (the Chosen) and is followed by a sequence of three arias of three Seligen (Blessed), interspersed by choruses of Blessed with a solo by Johannes (the apostle St John who is the writer of the Apocalypse). The chorus repeat "Heilig ist unser Gott" (Holy is our God). The oratorio ends with a chorus of die Himmlischen (the Celestials).

Der Tag des Gerichts is one of Telemann's masterworks. He has set the text in a most dramatic way. The first part, with the dialogue between Disbelief, Mocker and Reason, could easily be a scene from an opera. After all, Telemann was a regular contributor to the Oper am Gänsemarkt until its closure in 1738. The recitatives are dramatic and in the arias Telemann fully explores the Affekts and vividly depicts the text. Impressive are the tremolos in the basses and the almost shouting declamation of the voices in the opening chorus of the second part. The chorus of the Vices at the end of part 3 is full of striking dissonances.

The instrumental scoring is carefully chosen to underline the content of the various arias. One of the most striking parts of this work is the accompanied recitative in which Devotion describes the coming of Jesus for the Last Judgement. The way Telemann uses the orchestra here in order to represent the natural phenomena like thunder and tempest points into the direction of Haydn's oratorios. Also innovative is that some choruses have the form of a song and are devoid of counterpoint. The closing chorus takes the form of a rondeau which was especially popular in France, and in this way Telemann returns to the beginning: the oratorio starts with a French overture. Remarkable are the three arias of the Blessed in the fourth part. In them the soloists are accompanied by a viola da gamba - an old-fashioned instrument at the time -, two violins and an oboe respectively.

Gotthold Schwarz has chosen for a performance with one voice per part. I am not sure whether this was the correct decision. It is known that Telemann, who in his capacity as Musikdirektor was responsible for the music in the liturgy of several churches in Hamburg, didn't have many singers at his disposal. But it is quite possible that more singers were available for performances in a concert hall. The addition of ripienists could have made the choruses a little more powerful, in particular those where the brass section is involved. Even so, these come off well, probably also thanks to the rather intimate acoustic. The largest solo parts are sung by Susanne Krumbiegel and Gotthold Schwarz himself, who give excellent accounts of their various roles (some of these are allocated to various singers as one can see in the header of this review). Both have strong voices and their delivery is immaculate. Tobias Unger has smaller roles, but sings them very well. He has a nice voice and a good diction. Siri Karoline Thornhill is a bit insecure now and then and doesn't have that much impact. Her voice is probably also a bit too weak for a highly dramatic work like this. The playing of the orchestra leaves nothing to be desired.

The booklet contains programme notes in German and English, but the lyrics are not translated which is a serious omission. I couldn't find a translation on the internet either. It shouldn't hold you back from purchasing this fine recording of what is a true masterpiece of an old man, who was still young in spirit.

Johan van Veen

A fine recording of what is a true masterpiece of an old man, who was still young in spirit.