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George Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Johannes Passion TWV 5:30 (1745) [109:10]
Catherine Bott (soprano); Sarah Connolly (mezzo); Reginaldo Pinheiro (tenor) – Evangelist; Jan Vandercrabben (baritone) – Christ; Philip Defrancq (tenor) - Peter and Pilate
Capella Brugensis; Collegium Instrumentale Brugense/Patrick Peire
rec. Sound Recording Centre Steurbaut, Gent, Belgium, no date
ET'CETERA KTC1518 [63:07 + 46:03]

Comparisons with the great, and well known, St John Passion by J.S. Bach are inevitable. However, this is not really a comparable work. To start with Telemann did not call it by the name given in large block capitals on the CD pack. The proper title, to be found on the back cover, is, pause for breath, "Music von Leiden und Sterben des Welt Erlösers bestehend aus Choren, Choralen, Arien, Cavaten, und Recitativen; in vier Singestimmen, und fuer mancherle˙ Instrumenten, also abgefasset, dass auch eine einzeler Person sich selbige be˙m Claviere zu Nutze machen kann; und nach der Poesie des Herrn Pastor Zimmermans Wohl Ehrwürdigen; melodisch-harmonisch verfertiget von Telemann" (translation below). Even in the German it is obvious that the words Johannes Passion do not occur.

This, according to the notes, is a Passion-Oratorio. In this genre works have texts heavily paraphrased from one of the gospels intermixed with commentary and reflections on how these events give hope to Christians. The genre Oratorio-Passion features unaltered Biblical texts and added commentary and reflection on the suffering of Christ — this is the type adopted by Bach. All this matters because one's approach to this recording should not be coloured by JSB's famous work. Telemann sounds quite cheerful where Bach's mood is sombre. This is because Telemann's text, probably by one Joachim Zimmerman from Hamburg, and influenced by 18th century German Pietism — a sort of early evangelical form of Protestantism — is more operatic, more concerned with Christ's role as one whose act of self-sacrifice offered redemption to Christian believers. Bach is concerned to convey the tragedy and suffering of Christ Himself. With this in mind, Telemann's 100-minute-plus outpouring of lyrical and dramatic music stands apart.

There are other Passion settings by Telemann, reputedly about 45 of them, but this is the only one published in his lifetime. He put a lot of effort into composition; apparently nothing in this work is purloined from elsewhere in Telemann's vast output. His transitional position between the baroque and the classical period is on display. He died when Mozart was already a seasoned 11 year-old and early classicism was in the ascendant. A lot of this work is decidedly operatic with da capo arias and long recitatives. It comes as quite a shock when a traditional Lutheran Chorale intrudes on the action. The final chorus gives happy thanks for the death of Christ because he keeps us from danger. Given it was never acceptable to write operas about Jesus, this is the closest it gets.

The singers include the redoubtable Sarah Connolly and Catherine Bott as well as less well known luminaries. The Belgian chorus and orchestra play with vitality and great beauty. The quality of this music left me wondering what the other 45 settings are like, but I suspect no-one is about to issue a boxed set. Once again one must say to baroque enthusiasts and music-lovers in general, do not ignore George Philip Telemann.

The recording is clean and clear throughout with a wide stereo soundstage.

Dave Billinge

Note
The title in English with the help of my German-speaking friends: "Music on the suffering and death of the Redeemer of the world consisting of choruses, chorales, arias, ariosos and recitatives; in four sung parts and for all sorts of instruments, but with the intention that a single person can accompany at the keyboard; setting the poetry of Herrn Pastor Zimmermans; melodically and harmonically composed by Telemann."