Georg Philipp Telemann was by far the most productive and versatile composer of his time. His oeuvre also shows a clear evolution in style: in his early compositions he made use of counterpoint, whereas his later works point in the direction of the upcoming classical style. The music selected for this disc is mainly from three sources - all dating from Telemann's time in Hamburg where he worked as director musices
from 1721 until his death.
He mostly took care of the publication of his music himself. He came up with the idea of publishing music in form of a periodical every issue of which included one or two movements of a sonata: Der getreue Music-Meister
(1728-29). Here we not only find multi-movement sonatas but also single pieces, such as a minuet and arias, some of which were taken from his operas. A collection like this was aimed at the growing market of amateurs. Therefore the compositions are not technically all that demanding but at the same time are challenging enough to raise interest. The recorder is well represented, although it soon began to be overshadowed by the transverse flute. However, especially among amateurs, it remained very popular, and this probably explains why Telemann included a number of recorder pieces in his Essercizii Musici
, the last publication he took care of himself and which appeared as late as 1740.
The four cantatas are also scored for recorder, alongside a high voice (soprano or tenor) and basso continuo. It was quite unusual at the time for sacred music to be printed as cantatas and motets were mostly performed in services on Sundays and feast-days, and seldom performed more than once. There was a lively exchange of cantatas between Kapellmeister
across the country. Bach, for instance, performed cantatas by Telemann in Leipzig. The cantatas on the present disc are from a collection which was printed in 1725/26 under the title of Harmonischer Gottesdienst
. They were ordered according to the Sundays and feast-days of the ecclesiastical year. They could be performed in church, but also at home which explains the scoring. Telemann even suggested that the voice could be replaced by another instrument which would turn these cantatas into trio sonatas.
The basic structure is a sequence of aria - recitative - aria, although now and then Telemann deviates by opening with a recitative or by incorporating recitativic passages into arias. The recitatives are the heart of these cantatas as far as their content is concerned. They are closely connected to the reading of the day for which the cantata was written. Seele, lerne dich erkennen
, for instance, is for Sunday Quinquagesima, also known as Sunday Estomihi, the last Sunday before Lent. The gospel reading of the day tells how Jesus made his way to Jerusalem. The text of the cantata specifically links up with the epistle reading from 1 Corinthians where St Paul states that "we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away". This thought is worked out in the opening aria which says that what "man's wit can achieve is but a mottled patchwork". The following recitative uses various images to underline the concept of human imperfection. It is only after man's death that "darkness shall be transfigured into radiance, patchwork made whole, the child becomes a man". The closing aria says: "Therefore with rapture I will kiss you, you the herald of perfection", referring to Jesus.
The voice and the treble instrument are treated on equal terms: the arias usually begin with a solo episode for the instrument - here the recorder - and then the voice enters. Telemann did not specify the voice and only indicated the range. The cantatas on the present disc are for high voice which can either be a soprano or a tenor. In this case we hear the Swiss tenor Felix Rienth. Not long ago I reviewed
a recording of Spanish songs and I was very enthusiastic about his performances. Here again he shows his qualities, especially in the interpretation of the text. I was particularly satisfied with his performance of the recitatives. That is not that easy, considering their length; apart from the basso continuo the singer is all on his own. He takes the right amount of rhythmic freedom in the interest of expression, and adopts the right accents. He also sings well in the arias, but here I am not totally satisfied. Some arias are performed at high speed, which is probably right, but this is at the cost of Rienth's diction. There are several words which are not delivered as they should be. In the opening aria of the first cantata the CH in "durCHsuche" is hardly audible, and so is the S in "nichtS" in the closing aria. There are more examples of this kind. The coloratura on "leben" in the opening aria of Deine Toten werden leben
is not very clearly articulated and stronger dynamic differentiation would not have gone amiss either. In this aria I could imagine a somewhat quieter tempo.
Lastly I am spomewhat disappointed about the parimony exercised in the adding ornaments. In contrast to Bach Telemann leaves much to the performers, but here they overdo the restraint, and that goes especially for the arias in the cantatas.
That said, this is a disc which Telemann aficionados will certainly like to have. It is an attractive programme of vocal and instrumental music, and the cantatas in particular are not that familiar. The way their text is interpreted is one of its main assets.
The booklet includes liner-notes in English, German and Spanish. Apparently this disc is aimed at the international market. It is surprising then that English translations of the lyrics are omitted.
Johan van Veen