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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Wertes Zion sei getrost [20:34]
Jesu wirst Du bald erscheinen [10:08]
Herr Gott, der du uns has von unsrer Jugend an [16:17]
Ein feste Burg is unser Gott [8:50]
Welch’ Getümmel erschüttert den Himmel [17:30]
Simone Schwark (soprano), Johann Krell (alto), Hans Jörg Mammel (tenor), Markus Flaig, Wolfgang Weiß (basses)
Kammerchor der Erlöserkirche Bad Homburg
Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble/Susanne Rohn
rec. 13-16 April 2016, Erlöserkirche Bad Homburg (Germany)

Asked to name a German Lutheran composer of the eighteenth century you would, of course, think first of Bach.  It’s worth remembering, however, that during their lifetimes Georg Philip Telemann was more widely known, much more popular and even more prolific than JSB.  2017 sees both the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death and the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s (allegedly) nailing of his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg church, so this disc combines both of those events into a worthwhile celebration of Telemann’s cantatas for Reformation Day and Michaelmas.

Wertes Zion features as its second movement a wonderfully festal setting of Luther’s most famous hymn, Ein’ feste Burg, and opens with a quietly majestic plea for steadfastness.  The chorus Seid böse, ihr Völker is a cracker, resplendent with martial trumpets and drums, as the chorus sings of the need to be ready to do battle in the name of Christ, and the concluding Hallelujah is cut from the same cloth. Jesu wrst du bald erscheinen looks forward to Christ’s return and, during its opening tenor aria, summons up trombones to evoke the last trumpet.  Herr Gott, der du uns hast von Unser Jugend an, scored for strings alone, opens with a graceful Sinfonia and revolves around a set of very effective tenor and alto arias.

Ein’ feste Burg itself is a cantata for solo bass, melded with several agile string obbligati and sounding great against the organ texture. Welch Getümmel opens with thrilling staccato trumpets and thundering timps to depict the tumult in heaven, appropriate for the feast day of St Michael.  Subsequent arias depict the peace that reigns once the tumult is over and Satan has been defeated.

It’s interesting to note how brief many of these cantata movements are, however, and that’s one of the things that sets him apart from Bach.  While JSB could work miracles of inspiration on small passages of text and work them through to wring every ounce of musical possibility out of them, Telemann seems to move much more lightly – a hit-and-run, almost – and that is perhaps the main reason why he has been charged with superficiality over the centuries, and why his reputation is so much lower than Bach’s today.

If you’re ever going to explore his work, though, then this is the time.  The performances here are perfectly fine, though the weak link is the chorus, who are serviceable rather than brilliant. They sound rather put-upon in places, as though they’re struggling a little with the material, and they’re coping rather than relaxing into it.  Are they amateurs, I wonder?  Unfortunately, the recording doesn’t help them either, making them sound recessed and distant compared to the orchestra and soloists.

The soloists are better, particularly the ladies, Simone Schwark and Johanna Krell making a lovely pair, both together and individually. The men are more mixed. Hans Jörg Mammel has a clean tenor, even if he’s slightly breathless in parts of the coloratura. Markus Flaig sounds good in Ein’ Fest Burg, if not, perhaps, as confident as others might.  Unfortunately, though, Wolfgang Weiß sounds rather overcome by the fireworks and excitement of Welch Getümmel.

No complaints about the orchestral textures, however, which are marvellous.  The trumpets crown the texture, gleaming brilliantly atop, while strings and winds are pungent and characterful, solos ringing out beautifully.

No doubt other ways into Telemann’s music will appear this year, but this makes a good well-rounded introduction to his church music, with the double anniversary providing a good excuse both for making the disc and for sampling it.

Simon Thompson



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